THE public is thoroughly confused by the torrent of words wetting us down about Darryl Smith, Member of Parliament for Diego Martin Central, a safe PNM seat.
What are the issues and what were the roles of the various high persons who had conduct of the main issue?
The main issue is what went on between Smith when he was Minister of Sport and an employee in the ministry whom he hired as a personal assistant. Specifically, did Smith sexually harass her? That is the main issue, and attempts to get an answer to that question have failed.
There were two legal processes that would probably have answered the central question. The first was a case in the Industrial Court.
That case came about because the employee, Carrie-Ann Moreau, was dismissed from her job at the Ministry of Sport. Through the medium of a trade union, she raised a trade dispute and the matter went to the Industrial Court. The matter did not proceed to trial in the open court.
It appears Moreau was summarily dismissed without any opportunity to put her side of the case to the employer or to represent why she should not be dismissed.
In those circumstances, the advice of external counsel was sought and Michael Quamina advised that the former employer, the Ministry of Sport, would be likely to lose the case in the Industrial Court because of the procedural irregularity of Ms Moreau’s dismissal.
As a consequence of Quamina’s advice, negotiations took place between the employer and the trade union about settlement of Moreau’s wrongful dismissal claim. There is nothing odd about such negotiations.
The parties agreed she should be paid $150,000, no doubt as damages for her wrongful dismissal.
No shade should be thrown on Moreau for accepting a monetary settlement because had she been successful before the Industrial Court, she would have received money damages. I note with distaste that the usual garrulous suspect defenders of the Government may now in desperation use the shoddy tactic of victim smearing.
Questions were asked about Quamina’s role in the matter; rightly so, because he is reportedly very closely tied to the PNM Government and the prime minister but, on the face of it, he carried out a professional engagement to advise a client, the Ministry of Sport, on the conduct of a case that turned out to be weak.
Nevertheless a furore arose about the settlement because, as part of it, Moreau was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The effect of that agreement was to prevent her from speaking about anything that happened between herself and Smith while she was an employee at the Ministry of Sport and he was the minister.
Therefore, we do not know what Moreau was alleging against Smith in the Industrial Court proceedings. Of course, if anyone had sight of the documents filed there, they might find that out.
I agree with all those who say it is indefensible to have a non-disclosure agreement signed in circumstances where we are entitled to know precisely why taxpayers’ money in the sum of $150,000 was paid to an employee dismissed from a ministry. Who gave instructions to use that device?
Prime Minister Rowley must have thought there was something discreditable in Smith’s conduct because he removed him as a minister. Such a step heightened the need to know what, if anything, Smith had done.
Accountability for behaviour in public office requires that, and still does, because Smith remains a sitting Member of Parliament, and may, if he is somebody’s pet, be permitted to seek re-election for his seat.
Apparently the prime minister’s disturbance was continuing because a committee was appointed to look into Smith’s conduct. I do not have the terms of reference for the committee, but it appears from media reports the committee was to examine allegations of sexual harassment.
The committee comprised three persons of known competence. The chair was a distinguished retired permanent secretary. The work of such an investigative committee is also a legal process. It is legally bound to treat any person against whom there are allegations with fairness.
What went wrong there?
—To be continued