The Ministry of Sport is on a whistleblower witch-hunt in an attempt to ascertain the source of leaked documents that revealed a taxpayer-funded $150,000 payout to a former employee who was fired after making a report of alleged sexual harassment against the former minister, Darryl Smith.
Sunday Newsday understands that in the second week of April, ministry officials, under the orders of the permanent secretary, Nicolette Duke, issued internal memos to specific members of staff whom they suspected had leaked the documents, eventually obtained by this newspaper, to the media. However, while the message was the same, every memo had a slight variation in content.
Sunday Newsday has obtained a copy of one of the letters, but in order to protect the identity of the source, will not publish extracts. The gist of the letter, however, is that the permanent secretary had begun an internal investigation into how confidential documents from January 2017 were made public. Among the requests for information included details of individual duties and how the documents may have been leaked.
Sunday Newsday had first written about the ministry’s settlement with the employee, the details of which had been hidden behind a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), on March 25. On April 8, the Express published the employee’s alleged witness statement. On April 10, just one day after being shifted from the sport ministry to the junior minster of housing, Smith was fired by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. Rowley, who had at the April 5 post-Cabinet media briefing, said he had full confidence in all his Cabinet ministers, said in a release that his decision to sack Smith was based on “new information.”
Rowley then announced that a special investigative committee would look into the details of the allegations against Smith, as well as the procedures at the Ministry of Sport that led to the decision to make a settlement offer and then seal the deal behind an NDA. The committee’s report is expected to be completed and presented to the Prime Minister this week.
The letter was sent in the early days of new Sport Minister Shamfa Cudjoe’s tenure. Contacted for comment, Cudjoe said she was not aware of any such document, and even so, that was a matter for the permanent secretary to handle, not her. “It’s not something for the minister to get involved. You are asking me to comment on something I know nothing about. I have not seen any letter. I don’t even know if the letter exists. I can find out what happened but it’s usually a matter for the permanent secretary,” Cudjoe told Sunday Newsday in a phone call.
She did admit that she was still early days in the ministry and so still settling in. Sunday Newsday also attempted to get a response from Duke, via an email request sent to one of the ministry’s communication officers, but was not successful.
The ministry’s quest flies in the face of some of the core aspects of Government’s Whistleblower Protection Bill, laid in Parliament by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi only last week, where people and organisations who prevent whistleblowers from making disclosures can face stiff penalties, including fines and imprisonment.
The legislation’s objective is to combat corruption and other wrongdoings by encouraging and facilitating disclosures of improper conduct in the public and private sector. The bill is also designed to protect people making these disclosures from detrimental action, to regulate the receiving, investigating or otherwise dealing with disclosures of improper conduct.