Hoop and hype
The spectacle of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago being lifted into the air by the towering Shaquille O'Neal certainly attracted the national attention that National Security Minister Jack Warner must have been hoping for in launching his Ministry's "Hoop of Life" initiative.
The airwaves and blogosphere have gone into overdrive about the propriety of the act and the Prime Minister's judgment in participating in such a stunt.
We should not, however, allow the raging debate to make us lose focus on the Government's latest multi-million dollar programme designed to support our youth, especially those in economically depressed communities.
There can be no argument with the strategy of using sport to harness the energies of our youth, hone their talents and give them reason for hope into the future. Nor can one under-value the effort to organise communities around sporting competitions.
Indeed, as Mr Warner would know, this kind of initiative is precisely what football has been pleading for in its long standing efforts to rebuild community spirit around the country's most popular sport and to incentivise the sport itself.
So? In principle, we have no argument with this initiative. Still, we cannot avoid the queasy feeling that Hoop of Life could turn out to be yet another expensive flash in the pan with dubious value to the sustainable development needed by young people in low-income communities. If it fails to achieve change, this initiative will boomerang on us, becoming one more reason for youth cynicism and despair.
Hype is no substitute for the detail and accountability that the public needs in order to judge the value of public investment in this programme.
What, for example, are the specific outcomes? How will they be delivered by the chosen strategy? What is the management capability in place? What are the monitoring and evaluation mechanisms?
What will make its outcomes different from that other multi-million-dollar extravaganza, Colour Me Orange?
Finance Minister Larry Howai should know that the public is depending on him to keep a hawk's eye on the use of public funds for the Government's multiple populist schemes.
Then there is the issue of the prize money: a million dollar first prize; $500,000 for second and $250,000 for third. Any community team would love to hit this jackpot but what message is the government sending to our youths when it chooses to make money the biggest source of motivation for a community competition?
Mr Warner needs to be careful. For one thing, he does not have a distinguished record in dealing with public funds in his previous incarnation as football's leading figure in this country.
Additionally, we hope that, given the cash incentives involved, the management of this programme will be effective in ensuring that it does not add fuel to the already dangerous levels of community tension which have been exploding in our faces, at a price measured in blood.