Friday, February 23, 2018

LifeSport leftovers

 The Prime Minister  has misled the country in her recent statement to Parliament on the LifeSport audit report. In May 2014 she requested a “full audit” of the programme. Last Friday she described the audit report laid in Parliament as “a thorough and focused audit” that “has now been completed”. But it is not so. Early into the 56-page report the authors say, “Most of the documents from February 2014 to present have not been yet seen even though numerous requests have been made”. There was no “full audit” because public officials failed to provide all requested documents. What did the PM or Minister of Sport do to get all documents to the auditors for a thorough audit? 

The Auditor General reported on a similar failure in her annual report for 2013. How could the PM tell Parliament the audit report was thorough? And, with documents covering five months requested but still not presented for audit, how could the PM tell Parliament the audit is “completed”?

Even the auditors acknowledge that the report is incomplete. At page 20 of the report, the Central Audit Committee says, “a number of other matters have been reported in the media but, given limited resources and time constraints, these were not all investigated.” Is the PM serious? Limited resources, in the “full audit” of a highly controversial $400 million political slush fund, that the PM knows the country urgently wants to know about?

For sure the country was anxious for the truth to surface given the early contradictions that followed Express journalist Asha Javeed’s disclosure of the LifeSport wrongdoings. And of course the country became more anxious once Minister of Sport Anil Roberts recommended that judgment be suspended pending the audit report. 

But given the revelation that Minister Roberts likely misled the Parliament on certain aspects of LifeSport, including the scholarships said to be awarded to LifeSport participants, the PM has a responsibility to place before the Parliament an audit report that covers all the corners and creases of the LifeSport Programme, clearly demarcating responsibility and potential liability, and clearly identifying what the Minister of Sport knew, approved or facilitated. Instead the PM laid a report that chronicles slackness and dispatches the report to other oversight bodies for action. What about her minister? 

Last Friday the PM said: “What is most shocking and disappointing, is the fact that given the usually stringent nature of the bureaucratic processes in obtaining approvals for projects, implementing programmes and monitoring progress, no action was taken to halt or prevent what the Audit Committee found.” PM, what are the consequences for the Minister of Sport? Can the minister, with overall responsibility for a $400 million programme that he conceived, realistically expect to escape the consequences of the LifeSport wrongdoings? And do you as PM seriously expect the country to exonerate your Minister of Sport and you?

With the LifeSport audit report in the hands of the Integrity Commission, Director of Public Prosecutions, Commissioner of Police, and head of the public service, will these bodies face the same resource constraints the Central Audit Committee faced in performing this audit? 

The committee merely scratched the surface and a full forensic audit following the money must be conducted. In the interim, the PM must answer the political question raised by the auditors. If the objective of the LifeSport programme was the reformation of individuals and the individuals were absent, how can they be reformed? And she must ask herself, if the objective was to conduct a full audit, how come documents for five months were not provided as the auditors requested?

The author is a lawyer and possible PNM candidate for the next general elections