In May 2017, the UK Guardian published an article titled “The Great Brexit Robbery: how our democracy was hijacked”, which reported that a data-mining firm, SCL Elections (now Cambridge Analytica (CA), which played a role in both Brexit and the election of President of United States, Donald Trump, worked in Trinidad and Tobago.
On its website, CA cites Trinidad and Tobago as a case study, claiming responsibility for the “Do So” campaign built around the crossed arms of San Juan resident Percy Villafana who had refused then prime minister Patrick Manning entry to his home during a walkabout March 2010.
The general election which took place a few months later saw Kamla Persad-Bissessar, as head of a coalition People's Partnership, defeat Manning in a landslide victory to be installed as the country's next prime minister.
“Ultimately, the employment of CA's research-based differential campaigns and establishment of consistent policy and variegated communications contributed to the People's Partnership coalition landslide victory. The victory saw Trinidad and Tobago's first-ever female Prime Minister. CA subsequently supported the governing coalition with ongoing advice,” the site reported.
In an investigation spanning several months this year, the Sunday Express discovered several data-mining operations took place between 2010-2015, facilitated by politicians, with the cost being borne by taxpayers.
This is a first in a series looking at how this information was used, who had access to it and whether taxpayers benefited from it.
UK pollster Sir Robert Worcester, was paid a monthly consultancy from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) of US$10,000 (TT$64,500) for two years, from 2013-2015.
He mainly operated out of his UK home, Allington Castle in Kent.
Worcester, founder of UK based-Market and Opinion Research Institute (MORI), now called Ipsos Mori, sent in a proposal to then Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration from another company he had set up, Mori Caribbean.
His proposal to the People's Partnership “Listening to the People: Public Attitudes Research Programme”, which was taken to Cabinet by Persad-Bissessar, was approved at a total cost of US$9,953,475 (TT$63 million).
It was a two-year project and the costs would cover 13 surveys, seven focus groups, the core consultancy and Worcester and his three-member team's travel expenses.
Of the $63 million approved for the project, OPM made payments to invoices from Mori Caribbean, through Government Information Services Limited (GISL), the sum of $27,224,129.58.
In 2013-2014, OPM paid $9,924,285.05 on Mori Caribbean's invoices and in 2014-2015, the OPM paid $17,299,844.53 on Mori Caribbean's invoices.
Payments were made directly to Worcester and not to the company, Mori Caribbean, for which he had obtained the work.
The Express saw five payments wire-transferred (in US currency) to him for a two-month period January-February 2014-$582,114.33; 3,234,429.37; $194,252.37; $322,623.97 and $161,909.37, totalling $4,495,329.41 (US$695,000).
He told the Express, through interviews conducted by UK Guardian reporter Jamie Doward this past week, that he closed down the company because of “the burden of accounting” which “we didn't need.”
Worcester sub-contracted the work. While he had smaller contracts throughout the ministries, like the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Public Administration, the OPM contract was the most lucrative.
They were all sub-contracted to HHB Associates or Caribbean Market Research Limited.
While Worcester was paid in the millions, those pollsters were paid significantly smaller sums.
One invoice for Caribbean Market Research dated April 17, 2014, for seven focus groups (moderating, submission of feedback forms and travel expenses was for $48,300.
Asked to comment on this, he said: “We could never run them (the polls) because we are not Trinis.”
He elaborated: “I've always had a native speaker in these countries, unless I am doing an elite focus group with members of parliament.”
He told the UK Guardian he only received US$3.3 million from the then Government for that project and that two-thirds was paid to sub-contractors.
From documents seen by the Express, Worcester only visited Trinidad for several two-day trips on this project for which he billed the OPM. For other travel and expenses, he billed the relevant ministries for which he was doing “other projects.”
Polling and politics
Worcester, often credited for making polling inextricably linked to election outcomes, said he was approached by a cabinet minister to do work for the PP government.
In 2013, the PP lost the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections, the Chaguanas West by-election to former ally and former national security minister Jack Warner and St Joseph by-election to the People's National Movement's (PNM) Terrence Deyalsingh.
He was already doing work at the Ministry of Public Administration by then.
He said his “conduit” to the government was former adviser to Persad-Bissessar, Shem Baldeosingh, but that he didn't want him to be dragged into the matter.
Worcester first worked in Trinidad in 2005, the year he was knighted, under the Patrick Manning administration.
In that year, he set up a company in Trinidad called Mori Caribbean with himself and Mark Gill as directors.
In 2007, Congress of People MP Gerald Yetming questioned the integrity of the work Mori was doing for the Manning administration.
Since 2005, Yetming said the Manning government had paid Mori $11 million: $4.6 million in 2005, $1.2 million in 2006 and $5.6 million in 2007 (an election year).
Yetming had said this constituted a “recycling of public funds for a general election purpose.”
“The intent behind Mori is to do political polling for a political party. It is the use of public money for illicit purposes,” he said to the Parliament during debate on the Finance (Supplementary Appropriation) Bill 2007.
The Express was told by an advertising executive that then-PNM government used Mori consultants in their advertising campaigns in 2007.
A UNC official who did not want to be named, said Mori's work was discussed at UNC strategy meetings. He said one of Worcester's team had presented findings to them at various points in the run-up to the election.
“It shaped what issues would be targeted. It definitely formed the basis of what issues the party thought was important like health care and crime,” the official said.
Another official explained that the results of Mori's work, or the people-sensitive topics, found their way into the PP's budget priorities.
MP for Naparima, Rodney Charles, who was the UNC's campaign manager, confirmed to the Express that he had access to the polling data as a matter of course. He noted that as campaign manager, the information was generally based on the Government's performance and whether people were satisfied.
Persad-Bissessar did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The OPM/Mori Contract
On May 3, 2013, Sir Robert Worcester submitted his proposal to the Government.
On June 11, 2013 former permanent secretary to the prime minister and head of the public service Reynold Cooper wrote to Worcester informing him that cabinet had approved fees and expenses of US$9,953,475 and he was “now authorised to commence fieldwork for the first surgery and set of focus groups as per your discussion in May 2013.”
Mori Caribbean's address was listed as White Cedars, Mustique, St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Worcester has a house on the island which can fetch up to 17,000 pounds a week.
Mori's proposal, a copy of which was obtained by the Express, looked at how the Government could more successfully engage citizens and voters.
“The more that any Government co-ordinates and integrates its communications, the more it will succeed in getting its messages over and building buy-in and support amongst opinion-formers and the wider public,” the proposal stated.
Its advice included that “all media should be strategic”.
“Even when external or unplanned events occur, the schedule helps ensure the reaction to those events is also strategic as well as tactical.
For example, a flooding is unplanned but is also a chance to show the Government being decisive and effective in dealing with the aftermath, and also concerned and compassionate in the way that the PM and key ministers visit those affected, listen to their concerns and act to ensure the public services react swiftly,” the proposal read.
By March 2014, though, the OPM was forced to get a Cabinet stamp of approval after its request to sole select Mori Caribbean for the project was turned down by the Central Tenders Board (CTB).
One month earlier, the CTB's Director of Contracts sent a memo to the OPM stating that the Mori contract was “a breach of the Central Tenders Board legislation and as such a contract cannot now be awarded by the Central Tenders Board.”
In the Cabinet note, which was taken by Persad-Bissessar, she said the cost of consultancy was US$135,400— with the cost of project at US$111,400 and other expenses at US$24,000.
Cabinet was asked to approve the consultancy at that cost— (TT$869,268.00)— which was to be met from the budgetary allocation of the Prime Minister.
The OPM had by that time appointed the GISL to be the exclusive agent for the Mori contract.
GISL was to be paid a management fee of three per cent of the contract — US$298,604.25.
The contract between the GISL and Mori Caribbean had strict terms— that it could only utilise material authorised by the OPM and that it shall not seek to register any intellectual property on behalf of the OPM.
The contract stated that GISL must return all material to the OPM or dispose of it, if the OPM so instructed.
Former GISL chairman Tony Deyal said yesterday he met that contract when he began work at GISL. He said since the payments did not come out of GISL's pockets (as it was paid by OPM), it didn't interrupt of affect his management of the company.
He said he never actually saw a copy of Mori Caribbean's final report and at the time he was at GISL, the company did not receive a copy of it.
Look out for Part 2 in the coming days