A three-year-old etiquette company with limited experience and a link to Government's primary advertising agency has secured lucrative sponsorships from four state companies totalling almost $2 million to teach children good manners.
State companies—the Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT), the National Gas Company (NGC), the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) and the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago (Petrotrin) —have made financial commitments to sponsor the company, Sash Consulting Ltd.
Sash, owned by entrepreneur Shauna Huggins, has partnered with the Ministry of Education for its Character Education and Citizenry Development Programme.
The programme was launched last Monday at the Hilton Trinidad, St Ann's by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
TSTT, the Sunday Express learnt, has committed the lion's share of money to the programme—$1 million over the next three years.
The NGC and Petrotrin have committed $30,000 a month for the next year and the NLCB has committed $27,700 a month.
NLCB chairman Mitra Mahabir confirmed to the Sunday Express that the NLCB had committed to Sash Consulting $250,000 over a nine-month period.
He said the NLCB has already made several contributions. The fifth state company to sponsor Sash is Caribbean New Media Group.
CNMG's chief executive Ken Ali told the Sunday Express yesterday that CNMG was asked by the Ministry of Education to partner with the Ross Advertising Agency for the broadcast medium of the initiative.
"We have not had to put out any money but we have benefitted financially. We were retained by Ross Advertising to do commercials which were one minute commercials and 15-minute features. We were further employed, that is C TV and 91.1 Talk City, at market rate to have the programmes air on our station," Ali told the Sunday Express.
Asked for clarification on the agency, whether it was indeed Ross Advertising and not Sash Consulting, Ali responded: "Our relationship was and is with Ross Advertising. And we've benefited from it."
An internet search of Sash's website comes up with the hyperlink www.sashconsulting.rossadvertisingcaribbean.com.
Ross Advertising is owned by advertising executive Erine Ross. Ross handles advertising accounts for TSTT's Blink brand and handled Petrotrin's Jubilee oil find for the state's energy company.
According to his website he also handles advertising for other state companies such as Caribbean Airlines and the Housing Development Corporation.
Ross Advertising is the advertising agency that coordinated the People's Partnership second anniversary rally at Mid Centre Mall, Chaguanas on May 24.
It has also done other advertising programmes for the government.
Asked yesterday by the Sunday Express whether there was an affiliation to Ross Advertising, Huggins responded: "Ross Advertising has nothing to do with Sash Consulting."
When the Sunday Express pointed out that Sash's website address carried Ross' company name, she replied: "He helped with the communication of the programme" and then told the Sunday Express she had another engagement and could not answer any questions.
Huggins was asked earlier yesterday about the status of her contract with the Ministry of Education for her work.
She told the Sunday Express that she doesn't yet have a contract as negotiations were ongoing and they "haven't finalised anything" as yet as they were "going through the details".
She'd explained that she had approached the Ministry of Education with a proposal to implement etiquette training when it was announced as part of the Ministry's curriculum reform.
On April 5, Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh announced that Cabinet had agreed to a programme (no company was identified) to "boost pupils' self-esteem and create peace in the education system" and it had come against the background of an increased incidence of bullying in schools.
The programme, he had said, will focus on introductory etiquette and social skills development, personal responsibility, social skills, emotional growth and moral and value instruction with the expected outcomes being improved self-esteem and self-confidence among pupils and the ability to embrace core values and character traits to lead a successful life.
On April 6, Huggins posted the link to the story published in the Express to her Facebook page with the note: "Sash Consulting is proud to partner with the Ministry of Education in transformation."
According to the website sashconsulting.rossadvertisingcaribbean.com, Huggins bio states:
"Shauna Huggins is a qualified etiquette consultant, having been trained at the prestigious American School of Protocol in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the last remaining bastions of Southern hospitality."
An internet search of American School of Protocol in Atlanta reveals that it offers etiquette certification courses. The website says the etiquette certification training that you receive at The American School of Protocol will qualify you to teach first grades through college.
Huggins' website also reveals that she's pursued an online programme called "Moms on Edge."
She told the Sunday Express that she was sharing with the ministry her experience over three years of etiquette training. Her role, she said, was not to go out to schools but to pass on information to the curriculum department for implementation of the material.
Sash Consulting was incorporated in August 2009.
At that time, Huggins would offer certificate etiquette programmes.
On April 20, 2012, it recorded a change of address from 71 Ariapita Road, St Ann's to #47 Gallus Street Woodbrook.
Sash's offices were once occupied by Ross Advertising.
Huggins' occupation is listed as the general manager of Carimac Ltd. The Sunday Express was unable to find any company documents at the company registry for Carimac Ltd.
Contacted yesterday at 4.46 p.m., Ross refused to speak with the Sunday Express.
"I don't want to respond to anything which you have to ask," he said during a brief phone interview.
Asked whether the Sunday Express could direct its questions to a lawyer to secure a response, he said: "I have nothing further to say to you. Good-bye."
Those questions which were not
answered yesterday were:
1. Is there a relationship between Ross Advertising and Sash Consultancy Ltd?
2. Sash's founder Shauna Huggins told the Sunday Express that you'd helped with communication with the programme. Can you enlighten us?
3. One state company, CNMG, told the Sunday Express that it did not deal with Sash but with Ross Advertising. Can you explain?
4. Did you, at any time, leverage your relationship with state companies to secure financial commitments for Sash Consulting?
5. Why is 'rossadvertisingcaribbean' included in Sash's web address?
Subsequent attempts to contact Ross at 5.40 p.m. and 6.10 p.m. went straight to voicemail.
Education Minister Gopeesingh, in an emailed response to Sunday Express questions, said yesterday: "Sash Consulting developed a character education programme based on their teaching over the past three years as facilitators approved by the American School of Protocol. They had also developed radio and television programmes intended for broadcast which the firm presented to the Ministry. They also had secured several sponsors for the electronic media programme implementation. Their programme was going to be run on air independently; the Ministry sought to endorse it so that we could broaden its application by taking it into schools directly thereby allowing more school children to benefit from it. "
He said the issue of tendering did not arise as "Sash Consulting developed the programme with sponsors who were impressed with it. The ministry then sought to endorse their media programme and take it further as the Ministry of Education."
He said the responsibility will be for the ministry to use the Sash media programme over a two-year period that will be broadcast in schools. He pointed out that sponsors have been identified for the shows by Sash Consulting.
Asked about the job specifications for Sash Consulting despite no contract being awarded, Dr Gopeesingh said: "The responsibility of Sash is to produce its 60-sec and 15-minute programmes. Sash has also offered support for teachers and students in understanding the material broadcast."