PNM official Camille Robinson-Regis says Robert Sabga should go to the police with information on the death of Akiel Chambers, since he claimed to know the identity of two people who were involved.
Sabga, whom she described as a former UNC-appointed high commissioner, chaired a team that produced a 1997 report on abuse at children's home which was never acted on. The Prime Minister raised the subject of the report and the subsequent inaction earlier this week.
Robinson-Regis said, “I would assume that much of the public would rightly be not only surprised but alarmed, flabbergasted and even disgusted at that."
Chambers' body was found in 1998 in a swimming pool in Maraval after a birthday party. The 11-year-old had been sexually assaulted.
Robinson-Regis, who is also Minister of Housing and Urban Development, said as lady vice chairman of the PNM and chair of its National Women’s League, "I reiterate that the league is very clear regarding our view on the situation. Justice must be done! People who have information of criminal behaviour must take it to the police and action must be taken to punish perpetrators and to bring closure to the victims and their families. This is the usual blatant attempt of misdirection by the UNC and their agents in the media.”
She made the statement in response to a video interview with Sabga shown on Monday night at the United National Congress (UNC) virtual meeting.
In the video, Sabga was interviewed by boxing promoter Buxo Potts. Sabga claimed to know the names of two people involved in the paedophile ring at children’s homes and who had raped Chambers.
Sabga said the DNA of two people was found in the body of “the young boy who was buggered and who was drowned in a pool.” One has died, he said, but the other “still holds a very high position.”
Sabga went on to say none of the people named in the 1997 report on children’s homes was part of the then UNC government.
The report was commissioned by community empowerment, sport and consumer affairs minister Manohar Ramsaran. It resulted in a task force which was led by Sabga and included Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, Vasant Ramkissoon, Valerie Alleyne-Rawlins and Basdai Gayadeen-Catchpole. They uncovered neglect and abuse of the children, a paedophile ring and a system of kick-backs by “senior officials,” fraud and more.
Robinson-Regis added that she never saw the report, as it was never laid in Parliament, but had heard about it.
“I only knew that one was done and felt that – based on speculation that there were troublesome findings –that the Ministry of Social Development under the UNC Government must surely have made some effort to act on a report that it commissioned.”
Laws based on report
UNC public relations officer Dr Kirk Meighoo said the UNC government introduced five bills based on the findings of the 1997 Sabga Report, including the Children’s Authority Bill.
As proof that the UNC government did not “sit on” the document, he said a suite of legislation, programmes and infrastructure were introduced, including the Children (Amendment) Bill, the Adoption of Children Bill, the Miscellaneous Provisions (Children) Bill, and the Children's Community Residences, Foster Homes and Nurseries Bill.
He made the statement in a press release in response to a newspaper’s claim that the government of the day failed to act on the findings of the 1997 Sabga report .
Meighoo accused the PNM government which took office in 2001, and further PNM-led governments, of refusing to implement the acts, and said they were only implemented when Kamla Persad-Bissessar became Prime Minister in 2010.
He added the government in 1997, the Basdeo Panday-led UNC, did not try to hide the Sabga document.
“A simple search of the Parliament’s Hansard records – easily available on the website – would show that the Sabga Report was referred to on multiple occasions by Prof Ramesh Deosaran (November 19, 2002), Manohar Ramsaran (June 2, 2006) and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj (November 28, 2008), for example. In addition, it would show that the UNC consistently pushed for its package of children’s legislation which was consistently blocked and not implemented by the PNM.”
In the Hansard dated November 19, 2002, then independent senator Prof Ramesh Deosaran raised the issue of children’s homes in the Senate.
Directing his comments to then legal affairs minister Robinson-Regis, Deosaran suggested she look at the Sabga report carefully to directly address the neglect, abuse, and the other “horrors” facing children, rather than just legislation.
Deosaran told Newsday the report was never laid in Parliament, but as a senator, he heard about it from Cabinet sources.
He told Newsday he was surprised so many public officials, children activists and ordinary citizens expressed shock at the 1997 Sabga report.
He was saddened that the 2021 Judith Jones report highlighted allegations of continued oppression, neglect and sexual abuse, which he said showed the various authorities in and out of Parliament were asleep on the job.
“The saddening information in the Sabga report should have been subjected to police action years ago. The apparent delay helped contribute to prolonged hardships upon these children.
"And who should and must pay? References in Parliament were made to that 1997 report a short while after its submission to the then Cabinet. In fact, as I recall, as independent senator around 2000, I called for government action then.
“So while we now witness crocodile tears in some places and the Pontius Pilate syndrome in other places, it now appears that these ‘abandoned’ children might have been better off outside these homes.”
He said the government had a “seemingly ambivalent posture” on the Jones report, laying levels of bureaucracy on top of each other to evade social justice. Public outrage was not enough, he said, and frontline accountability with consequences was urgent and necessary.
He added that criminals would likely emerge from the uncaring conditions of the homes.
“This what we found during the inquiry made in 2013 with youthful inmates at the Remand Yard. Many of them dropped out of school or jumped out of children's homes.
"So continuing to mourn and plead about crime today without looking at where young hearts and minds get broken will merely appear as a recurring decimal.”
Calls to Panday and Ramsaran went unanswered.