Former children’s homes task force member Diana Mahabir-Wyatt says she remains shocked by Robert Sabga’s allegations of a paedophile ring involving some children’s homes and the link of high officials to the Akiel Chamber case.
In an interview with the Sunday Express last week Tuesday, Mahabir-Wyatt said Sabga, who served as the task force’s chairman, did not bring a lot of what he is now saying to the attention of other committee members.
Mahabir-Wyatt said the final report did not include a lot of the things Sabga is now claiming, such as the paedophile ring.
“I did not have that information as part of the task force. That information was not brought to the task force. I listened to what he said on social media. Personally, I am now hearing about it,” she said.
Mahabir-Wyatt, a former independent senator, said she was taken aback by what Sabga was saying. “Did he forget that he wasn’t the only one on that task force? That there were others there? Again, I know, and I can safely say that none of the things he is now saying ever came to our attention,” she said.
The Sunday Express asked whether it was possible Sabga ran a parallel investigation to the task force.
“No. At the time it was only the task force looking into the operations at children’s homes”, Mahabir-Wyatt said.
Pointing out that Sabga, in his interviews, mentioned meeting then-social development minister Manohar Ramsaran in a car park at midnight, opening car trunks to conceal the 1997 task force report, Mahabir-Wyatt declared, “All that drama sounds like Watergate.”
The Watergate reference relates to journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigation which brought down the Richard Nixon government. Their book, All The President’s Men, gave a blow-by-blow account of meeting their source in a car park for information.
“That was just a lot of drama. I certainly did not hear of it at the time. I certainly can’t confirm or deny some of the things he is saying since it was not brought to the task force’s attention”, she said.
Akiel Chambers link
Mahabir-Wyatt also addressed claims by Sabga that he knew the identities of the two individuals who buggered Chambers.
“He (Sabga) claims to have the names and actions of two guys who buggered Akiel Chambers and drowned him.
“At the time, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence was told via police sources, about one suspect, not two, and I certainly was never told they were members of the PNM. I mean, that is a surprise to me,” Mahabir-Wyatt said.
The Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a non-governmental organisation headed by Mahabir-Wyatt.
On May 17, 2005, the Coalition set up a trust fund in memory of Chambers. The fund received the blessing of Chambers’ mother, Debbie Pascal.
Sabga said last Monday night, in a video shown at the United National Congress (UNC) virtual meeting, that an individual who was involved in a paedophile ring 25 years ago holds a very high office today and was also linked to the Akiel Chambers case.
Asked if the suspects were active members of the People’s National Movement (PNM) government or party officials, Sabga said:
“I can neither confirm or deny... they say that time is longer than twine. One of the key individuals has now shuffled off his mortal coil, he’s gone; but one of the other key individuals still holds a very high position.
“I cannot call names, but if you recall the story of the young boy who was buggered and who was drowned in a pool (Akiel Chambers)... The autopsy report on that boy went the same way as our report because the DNA of two of these individuals were found in his body at the time. I will say no more.”
Ramsaran focused on
aesthetics at homes
On January 10, 1997, Cabinet agreed to establish a task force to assess the overall system of care provided by children’s homes and institutions, in terms of physical accommodation, assessment and evaluation, healthcare, education and therapeutic services, nutrition and administration.
Other members of the task force included Halcyon Yorke-Young, Vasant Ramkissoon, Toy Basdai Gayadeen-Catchpole, Valarie Alleyne-Rawlins and Sita Beharry.
The task force mandate was to determine the quality of the relationships which exist between caregivers and children, to identify children who are victims of abuse and to review the Draft Policy Statement on Standards and Procedures for Children’s Homes and Institutions.
Homes which formed part of the probe included St Jude’s Girls Industrial School, St Dominic’s Children’s Home, St Mary’s Children’s Home, St Michael’s School For Boys, Shri Jayalakshmi Home, The Hope Centre, The Happy Home, The Trinidad Christian Centre and The Lady Hochoy Home.
By Cabinet Note dated February 4, 1998, then-social development minister Manohar Ramsaran stated he considered the 1997 Sabga report and found it contained certain weakness and, in many respects, offered superficial information on issues pertinent to the quality of care for children, such as the availability of programmes, play areas, individual cupboards, the ratio of trained staff to children, the existence of overcrowding, and whether the system supported this.
“Nowhere in the report did the task force comment on the usefulness of mirrors in the homes (which are important for the development of esteem in children), except in instances where these were broken and became risks.
“The Minster of Social Development is concerned that the task force could have completed its assignment and be ignorant of the names of the managers and the amount of subventions provided by the government to these homes.”
In terms of the findings on the individual homes and institutions, Ramsaran stated the following comments are appropriate:
• The St Jude’s Girls Industrial School
“The report stated only negative findings. Further consideration should have been given to the capability of the institution to support proper nutritional and other needs for girls. Some of the concerns pertaining to the health/nutritional status of the girls could have arisen prior to their admission to the facility.”
• St Dominic’s
“Health problems mentioned could suggest failure also on the part of Community Health Services and should not be laid squarely on the shoulders of the institution as the report indirectly suggests.”