Even more outrageous than the findings of possible fraud, theft and corruption contained in the audit of the LifeSport programme is the glaring omission from the Prime Minister’s statement of any reference to the role, responsibility and accountability of line minister Anil Roberts, Minister of Sport.
It is clear from the report that the auditors were at pains to stick as closely as possible to the very specific mandate given to them by Finance Minister Larry Howai to “conduct an operations audit of the LifeSport programme with emphasis on the payment system”. Given the narrow mandate to focus on the payment system, it was clear that this audit would not address the issue of overall accountability. That task would have to fall to the Prime Minister.
From the public interest perspective, the scandals surrounding LifeSport have less to do with the payment system than with the management of, and accountability for, the use of public funds within the purposes defined by Cabinet, with the approval of Parliament.
The public expectation, therefore, was that, having received the audited report, the Prime Minister would review the performance of the minister assigned by Cabinet to implement LifeSport. On the evidence of the report, Minister Roberts was presiding over a complete mess. Not only that, but continues to defend the mess vigorously amid mounting evidence of corruption, fraud and theft. And yet, having reviewed the audit, the Prime Minister apparently saw no need to hold her Sport Minister accountable. Instead, she went to Parliament and, in a statement adorned with protestations about her Government’s commitment to integrity and transparency, proceeded to let Minister Roberts off the hook.
This attitude flies in the face of every tradition of the Westminster system of governance which Trinidad and Tobago claims to embrace. Whether or not he had a direct role, the scandals of LifeSport belong squarely under Minister Roberts as the line minister who was, at best, negligent of the responsibilities entrusted to him by the Cabinet.
Sending the auditors’ report of LifeSport’s payment system to the DPP, the police and the Integrity Commission cannot be the end of the matter. The Prime Minister must now turn to the more substantial issue of the quality of policy oversight and management provided by Minister Roberts in the ministry to which she assigned him. There is no yardstick by which he would not be found gravely wanting.
On Friday, the Prime Minister lost a chance to prove to the public that she is serious about good government when she failed to follow through on the devastating audit report by dismissing Minister Roberts. Whatever political considerations are playing in her mind, she needs to set them aside in the national interest and do the right thing now.
Fire him, Madam PM.