Friday, December 15, 2017

Grounds for dismissal

 What should it cost to cut grass on a recreation ground? Well, it depends on how many politicians are on the payroll. We know when the infamous LifeSport programme got into grass cutting, it paid $200,000 a month per recreation ground. And, throughout the steady exposure of the LifeSport labyrinth, the right pretended not to know what the left was up to. So, it is no surprise that in a public tender that closed today, WASA offered contractors between two and seven cents per square foot for grass cutting at WASA facilities around the country. The work is similar to the cutting done on recreation grounds and, at WASA’s rates, LifeSport’s 33 recreation grounds should cost $4.3 million over two years. LifeSport’s cost is $154 million more, enough to retire lots of politicians and grass cutters. 

Grass cutting is of course a less complex part of the LifeSport labyrinth that has gained public exposure. Grass cutting may just be boldface rate inflation and possible duplication of invoices for which no work was done. But the LifeSport labyrinth in which bureaucrats, politicians, and ex- and current criminals may have commingled are more intricate. This commingling is more than restorative justice. It is in part political opportunity meeting criminal need, insurance for a safe path through the contentious but critical east-west corridor when that time comes. And it is more than the purchase of election support. 

LifeSport also evidences the vulgarity of the gorging inherited, increased and sustained by the People’s Partnership Government. In that gorging both the private and public sector are involved. The independent institutions are aware, but unable. The low demands for accountability and the heavy supply of accomplices and accessories create the perfect environment. Beyond this, LifeSport is daring and dangerous, a political cooyah-mouth to a country without consequences. If any of the allegations proves truthful, LifeSport is the manifestation of where we always seem headed.

The LifeSport revelations are shocking enough, but the political inconsistencies are spectacular. In the first hours of the LifeSport allegations, the Minister of National Security confirmed gang involvement in the programme. He quickly reversed himself, only to return to his original position and remain there. He had no choice. Without a final audit report, we already know LifeSport got out of the Government’s control but remained its secret, until now. And, we know that LifeSport has shattered the Cabinet.

Within the Cabinet, Minister Griffith clearly stands alone in his open distrust of LifeSport.  It’s not something the PM and the Minister of Sport agree with. It is not something the AG cares to comment on. And given his broad acquittal of the PM and her Cabinet on matters of corruption, it is obviously not something the renewed leader of the Congress of the People Prakash Ramadhar is likely to blame the Government for. Among ministers, only Minister Griffith sees what the Auditor General and the rest of the country already know.

But what can Ministers Griffith and Larry Howai really do? Minister Howai told the Parliament that the additional $34 million sought for LifeSport will not be disbursed, “unless and until the Ministry of Finance and the Economy is assured of the legitimacy of the expenses that the funds are supposed to liquidate”. Within hours the Express reported $14 million was passed to LifeSport to settle some of the more controversial payments under the programme: stipends, co-ordinator fees, catering, and of course grass cutting.

Somebody overruled Ministers Howai and Griffith, even as they tried to figure out the reasonable cost to cut grass on a recreation ground. Perhaps they will ask WASA. 

Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer