Thursday, December 14, 2017

Into the deep end


Mark Fraser

With opinion polls showing a popularity lift for the PM, LifeSport may necessitate political life support. Despite her façade at the People’s Partnership fourth anniversary party, those LifeSport allegations must worry the PM. After all, her Government has consistently denied ties to gangs and State contracts.

More troubling is that ties were exposed by the media and confirmed by the Minister of National Security. It means either there’s no national security intelligence blowback reaching the PM’s National Security Council or the PM leads her government in a national security charade. If Minister Gary Griffith is correct and Government, State contracts, alleged criminal elements and ghost gangs are united, the PM’s political life support will require more than spin doctors.

The LifeSport revelations by Express journalist Asha Javeed placed floodlights on the PM’s rapid increase in budgetary allocations to the Ministry of Sport. The April 2013 report of the Auditor General disclosed a staggering 1,275 per cent increase in spending from 2011 to 2012. This $367 million increase was a mystery until explained by LifeSport and other slush funds. The fortuitous leak of a video featuring an Anil Roberts look-alike just as LifeSport was under scrutiny derailed attention temporarily, but Minister Griffith’s confirmations have certainly gotten LifeSport back under the microscope.

The PM may use her examination of the look-alike video as a way of distancing herself from Minister Roberts and LifeSport but, with or without Roberts in the picture, responsibility for LifeSport and any criminal elements benefitting from it rests with the PM as head of Government and the National Security Council (NSC).

It is impossible for the PM to be meeting continuously with her Cabinet and the NSC and not know about her Government’s relationship with alleged criminals through LifeSport. It is also impossible for Minister Griffith to have sat through NSC meetings and also be unaware of intelligence relating to the Government’s ties to alleged criminal elements and State contracts, especially since Griffith has been adamant that those ties must not exist. If both the PM and Griffith have been clueless, then the country’s national security intelligence must be more imagined than real.

Any windfall moving from anti-crime initiatives into the pockets of criminal elements provides a debilitating political script for the PM. Crime is still the public’s number one issue. It is not surprising that the Ministry of Sport is the keeper of this slush fund. In her April 2013 report, the Auditor General told the country that of six audit positions at the Ministry of Sport (the worst of all ministries) five were vacant. The Auditor General described the deficiency as grave and that it had been raised on a number of occasions, with unsatisfactory results.

Still, the Government piled hundreds of millions for the Ministry of Sport to spend, loads of it on LifeSport, much of it in a series of projects with low levels of accountability. The Ministry’s 2014 expenditure is $885 million, including $400 million in transfers and subsidies. Expect the upcoming Auditor General’s report to spoil the PM’s script.

In that script the PM will make Minister Roberts the LifeSport bobolee. But that will not provide the exit strategy the Government needs. The opinion polls show the PM can boost her popularity while her Government erodes its public confidence. Maybe it’s the cabal rhetoric that spares the PM accountability for her Government’s troubles. But, that detachment is fanciful.

The PM is responsible and completely accountable to us for good, bad, and LifeSport.

-Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer