PRIME MINISTER Dr Keith Rowley is standing by Sport and Youth Affairs Minister, Darryl Smith– at least for now. At yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, Rowley said he had confidence in Smith to do his job. In fact, Rowley said there was no minister in the government he did not have confidence in.
“If I do not have confidence in an individual whom I had given a portfolio to, I will withdraw that portfolio without let or hindrance.”
The Sport Ministry and Smith came under increasing scrutiny after Newsday reported a $150,000 payout to the minister’s former personal secretary after she challenged the ministry for wrongful dismissal after allegedly reporting sexual harassment by a high-ranking member of the ministry.
The details are bound by a non-disclosure agreement, despite taxpayers footing the bill. Several questions about the matter have since been raised in Parliament, particularly by Opposition MP Barry Padarath. It was during Padarath’s question to the Sport Minister, who was absent from the Chamber last Wednesday, that Rowley claimed to have heard of the matter for the first time. He said he would also like to know the facts. Padarath’s questions were answered by Stuart Young, Minister in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi. Smith, who had been in the corridor, Newsday was told, only entered the Parliament chamber when the question and answer session was finished.
“I am trying to find out what went on there. I first heard about it in the Parliament described in legal terms as a legal action that took place in a court of law in TT, so I will not want to pronounce on it without knowing exactly what the details were,“ Rowley said.
”I am not one of those who starts off by saying I don’t know, but I can then continue a conversation as if I know.”
Members of the government, including Rowley and Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, have insisted the matter is a “court matter” in the hands of the Industrial Court, with Robinson-Regis going so far as to call it a “non-story” fuelled by the media’s “agenda.” Documents, however, show the Sport Ministry chose to avoid a potentially expensive judgement and, instead, sought conciliation facilitated through the Ministry of Labour, and ultimately settled with the employee’s union for $150,000, before the court could rule. The details of the settlement were filed in the Industrial Court. Newsday had attempted to access all public documents related to the case but was told by the court that it was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.