Sunday 2nd January, 2005

 

SASC probing Devant Maharaj for misconduct

 
 
 
 
 
 
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BY WENDY CAMPBELL

The Statutory Authorities Service Commission (SASC) is investigating allegations of misconduct by the National Lotteries Control Board’s marketing and public relations officer, Devant Maharaj, who, among other things, has been accused of calling for all Muslims to be executed.

Documents obtained by the Sunday Guardian show that the SASC’s acting executive director, Jeanette Renaud, wrote to Maharaj on December 14, informing him that the SASC had received the allegation of misconduct against him. This letter came the day before Maharaj won a judicial review matter at the High Court on December 15, against the SASC over a decision to appoint someone else to act as deputy director of the board.

Renaud’s one-page letter identified the allegations in bold print: “That you (Maharaj) made derogatory statements about Muslims at an official dinner held (at Jenny’s on the Boulevard) on September 3, 2004, organised by the National Lotteries Control Board to honour Miss Rebecca Paul, president and chief executive officer of the Tennessee Lottery Education Corporation prior to her departure from T&T.”

Renaud’s letter said the commission had appointed Helen Francis-Huggins, a human resource officer at the National Housing Authority, to investigate the allegations and to report on the matter.

Renaud and Francis-Huggins bluntly refused comment when the Sunday Guardian contacted them last week.

NLCB’s acting director, Phyllis Borde, did not return calls up to late Friday and the board’s chairman, Louis Lee Sing, when contacted last week at his radio station, I95.5FM, would only say: “There is a matter affecting Mr Maharaj. However, I am not at liberty to comment.”

Pressed further, Lee Sing tersely replied: “If you keep following the media, you will realise that there are matters involving the NLCB and Mr Maharaj.”

The embarrassing remarks

Phyllis Borde wrote to Maharaj on September 17, informing him she had received two reports, one from Noel Maloney, NLCB’s acting secretary, and the other from Carol Quan Chan, NLCB’s presiding officer, On Line Games. According to Borde’s two-page letter, both reports say that on September 3, Maharaj made certain remarks that were embarrassing to both officers, the NLCB and the country by extension.

These remarks, Borde’s letter said, included:

n “All Muslims in Pakistan and other countries should be executed even if it meant wiping out whole nations and the rest of them should then move to Saudi Arabia.”

n “Chechens were Muslims and all Muslims were terrorists who should be wiped out.”

n “Pakistan should be wiped out since they had been fighting with ‘them’ for over 1000 years.”

n “At the last T&T general election, Muslims were allowed to walk around with guns and to terrorise citizens.”

On September 14, Borde also wrote to members of the NLCB, informing them that she had also had to contend with remarks from agents and members of the public on account of the “myopic” views expressed by Maharaj on a weekly basis in a daily newspaper.

“The board is asked to note that as the marketing and public relations officer, Mr Maharaj is the face between the National Lotteries Control Board and the public, and as a result should therefore ensure that our image is positively promoted,” Borde said.

Dealing with the current issue, Borde said on the contrary, however, such utterances as those reported in the attached letters (Quan Chan and Maloney’s) negatively affect the NLCB. She said as a consequence of an initial verbal report by Quan Chan, she immediately contacted Paul to initiate some damage control.

“Ms Paul was indeed a gracious guest and has assured us that we should not feel unduly embarrassed by Mr Maharaj’s comments.”

Borde asked Maharaj to reply to her letter in writing on or before September 21.

Enough is enough—Quan Chan

Apparently fuming over Maharaj’s alleged derogatory and religiously-charged statements, Quan Chan wrote to Borde on September 10, saying in future she no longer wanted to work at social settings with Maharaj.

“This confirms my verbal request that I not be assigned to work in future social settings with our marketing and public relations officer, Mr Devant Maharaj. I feel it necessary to state that I enjoy the challenges of being a part of the teams who organise the various functions and activities of the board. However, I don’t feel I should be subjected to Mr Maharaj’s extremist remarks,” Quan Chan’s two-page letter said.

On the night in question, Quan Chan said, the conversation included discussions on the outcome of the hostage situation in Russia, which all present agreed was a terrible and horrific event. After Maharaj’s alleged extremist remarks, Quan Chan’s letter said, she responded that Maharaj should not generalise or categorise all the people of the Muslim faith because of the action of a few.

“He then asked our guests whether they were aware that Muslims had held this country to ransom and that at the last T&T general elections Muslims were allowed to walk around with guns and to terrorise citizens.

“...For approximately two minutes Mr Maharaj went on about how Muslims have terrified others in the world. I then asked him some pointed questions,” Quan Chan’s letter said, but did not elaborate what the pointed questions were.

Quan Chan said she did not challenge Maharaj’s comments because “I believe that we are all entitled to our opinions and beliefs. (However) I am also of the belief that since we were on NLCB’s business, the forum was inappropriate for such extremist remarks which were disconcerting and embarrassing to me. I, however, do not want to be associated with his views—it is anyone’s guess whether Ms Paul is Muslim or not.”

Quick meal

Noel Maloney’s report of September 9 said he was enjoying a sumptuous meal at the time of Maharaj’s alleged outburst and as a result they had to hurry their meal. Maloney said the officials present were all left dumbfounded and found the statements in poor taste, given the fact that they had well-informed and distinguished visitors in their midst for the first time.

“With the mood at the table becoming very sombre, we quickly completed our meal and retired for the evening. At this point I asked Mr Maharaj to drop off our guests at their hotel,” Maloney’s one-page report said.

He said Quan Chan suggested that Maharaj should refrain from generalising and categorising all Muslims as terrorists, but Maharaj countered that it has been 1,000 years now that “they” have been fighting “with them.”

“When questioned as to whom he was referring (to), he responded ‘Pakistan’ and to the amazement of everyone ...blurted out: ‘All Muslims in Pakistan and other countries should be executed even if it meant wiping out whole nations and the rest of them should then move to Saudi Arabia,’” Maloney’s report said.

He concluded that in future, Maharaj should not be allowed to entertain guests on behalf of the NLCB.

Comments not memorised—Maharaj

When the Sunday Guardian contacted Maharaj at NLCB’s office last week, he said he knew nothing about the SASC investigation.

“I ent know nothing about that. You should probably call the SASC or my attorney,” Maharaj said.

However, Maharaj, of Tumpuna Road, Arima, did respond to Borde’s letter on September 21. In his very brief letter, a copy of which was made available to the Sunday Guardian, Maharaj told Borde he had not memorised the dinner conversation and did not recall the details.

“As far as I could summon up, however, some issue that was on the news currently led off a particular conversation. A spirited and open discussion with views of those in that discussion ensued on the matter and the subject changed after a few minutes,” Maharaj wrote. His letter concluded that it was indeed unfortunate that it had been misconstrued as something which was not intended, and had evoked such a response.

Not the first time

This is the second time that the NLCB has investigated Devant Maharaj for alleged misconduct as a result of statements he has reportedly made.

In June 2003 the NLCB sought attorney Douglas Mendes’ advice after statements allegedly made by Maharaj appeared in a daily newspaper. The statements were made during a panel discussion on “The Current Struggles of the Indo-Caribbean Community,” when Maharaj is alleged to have focused on likening T&T to Nazi Germany, to have compared Cepep with the Brown Shirts and to have recalled that there were collaborators in Germany who had betrayed their own people. He reportedly equated such collaborators with “those who sell out their people for ambassadorial and senatorial appointments in Trinidad.”

Mendes agreed that by his public pronouncements Maharaj was in breach of regulations and liable to disciplinary action. However, he concluded, “This was criticism which he was constitutionally entitled to engage in, and the fact that members of the board of the NLCB may not agree with the opinion he expressed or the manner in which he expressed it is irrelevant.”

©2003-2004 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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