Sabga task force member on PM’s call for police action – TOO LATE, DR ROWLEY

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former Sabga Task Force committee member Diana Mahabir-Wyatt with her copy of the 1997 report. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB –

FORMER Independent Senator Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, who was a member of the task force which investigated children’s homes 25 years ago, is questioning the rationale behind the Prime Minister’s demand for the police commissioner to investigate that report.

Speaking to Newsday, in a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mahabir-Wyatt who is also a human rights activist, confirmed being a member of the Robert Sabga-led task force.

On Dr Rowley’s call to acting CoP McDonald Jacob to find a copy of the Sabga report and investigate it and bring those guilty to justice, Mahabir-Wyatt said she is willing to supply a copy of the report through her lawyer, if so requested.

However, up to Tuesday afternoon, she said she had not been contacted by anyone from the TTPS or the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). She showed Newsday her personal copy of the Sabga Task Force report.

The task force, chaired by Sabga and including Mahabir-Wyatt, Vasant Ramkissoon, Valerie Alleyne-Rawlins and Basdai Gayadeen-Catchpole, investigated nine children’s homes and uncovered neglect and abuse of the children, a paedophile ring, a system of “kick-backs” by “senior officials,” fraud and more.

“After a certain number of years have passed, you can no longer charge somebody with an offence. I don’t have the names because the report I have, does not include names, other than an allegation against one security guard who was said to have sexually abused children, and one particular nun who was being cruel and abusive,” Mahabir-Wyatt told Newsday.

TOP COP TOLD TO ACT IMMEDIATELY

On Monday, in a statement on the Office of the Prime Minister’s Facebook page, Dr Rowley said he always paid special attention to homes for children and only became aware of the Sabga report when articles about it appeared in the media.

Rowley said he was told that the Cabinet-appointed committee, led by retired judge Judith Jones, which was appointed to look into the same issue last year, tried and failed to get a copy of the 1997 report.

Former Independent Senator Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, who was a member of the Robert Sabga Task Force, at her Cascade home on Tuesday. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB –

“I am today publicly calling on the commissioner of police to take immediate steps to find this Sabga report and the evidence of all those who were aware of this frightening situation and take all necessary action against all who have been implicated in or with these very shocking revelations as published,” Rowley said.

However, Mahabir-Wyatt said she was not unknown or hard to find and questioned why members of the committee, or anyone else, did not ask her.

She said the report was commissioned by then community empowerment, sport and consumer affairs minister Manohar Ramsaran and was sent to him. She said, as far as she knew, the report was taken to Cabinet which made Cabinet responsible for implementing the report’s recommendations.

She said she never heard if the report led to any police investigation but, at the time, she believed the minister or the Cabinet would have forwarded the information to the police.

As a result, although she was not officially told to keep quiet about the report, Mahabir-Wyatt said she did not go to the police herself.

“I naturally assumed that was what they would do. I really thought it was what they had done. But since then, there have been a number of ministers in that portfolio who would have come across that report and none of them seemed to be concerned.”

MR PM, DON’T  CHASE GHOSTS

In an interview with i95.5 FM on Tuesday morning, Sabga suggested that a “social media activist” for the People’s National Movement had a copy of the report. He too questioned the purpose behind Rowley’s call for police action on a 25-year-old report, saying the PM should focus on fixing the problems that exist now regarding the care of TT’s children, instead of “chasing ghosts.”

Sabga said most of the people involved were either dead or had moved on so, instead of focussing on them, the government should pay attention to the bigger issues that needed to be fixed.

Sabga stressed that the report was not “buried” or had been “sat on.”

He said it did not go to the police because it was a fact-finding mission, not a forensic investigation. He admitted there were “problems with the machinery” that followed, as he believed there should have been police action.

At the same time, Sabga told the i95.5 FM reporter that the police already knew about the paedophile ring, describing it as one of the worst kept secrets in TT, since there were many prominent and influential people involved.

The Robert Sabga Task Force 1997 report on children’s home in TT. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB –

“The reports, as I understand, were then sent down with a Cabinet note that those things have to be actioned. What happened after that I can’t speak to.

“I think action was taken as much as was possible given the realities of the processes involved. What we had wasn’t evidence. It wasn’t evidentiary in the sense that you could take it to court.”

Sabga also referred to statements by Ramsaran who said action was taken on the report by the government of the time, which created “seven or eight” pieces of legislation about children, and improvements were made to the system. Sabga also claimed the Children’s Authority Act came out of that report.

Mahabir-Wyatt said a lot of legislation involving children had been amended over the years and she could not say for certain if any resulted from the Sabga report.

The table of contents in the Robert Sabga Task Force 1997 report. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB –

However, as far as she knew, the Children’s Authority Act was not connected to the Sabga report. The Act was laid in 1999, passed in December 2008, and proclaimed in May 2015.

Mahabir-Wyatt said the Sabga task force members expected improvements would be made on the treatment of children in state-run and state-assisted homes and homes managed by religious organisations. She said that recommendations in the Sabga report, are “more or less the same” as the 2021 Judith Jones report.

She believes the same problems keep reoccurring because of TT’s culture and politics.

“Children don’t vote. And when you have elections coming up, the interests of children fall behind the political interests of the country.

“And people in our culture don’t really listen to children. They tell children what to do and to think.”