Monday, February 19, 2018

Much ado but nothing

 The LifeSport scandal has gone through the now-familiar paces of audit and parliamentary exposure. The file has been sent to the Commissioner of Police (CoP) for investigation, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for assessment, and to the Integrity Commission (IC),  for scanning of any breaches by former sport minister Anil Roberts and other officials. 

 All of which sounds very busy, but this exercise recalls a similar process applied to the last PNM administration’s secret scholarship fund, about which no further advances have been made public since splashy and threatening declarations last November from Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. The AG had told the Parliament that former minister Joan Yuille-Williams could have criminal charges to answer related to “questionable payments”, under-documented applications, favouritism in awards and general lack of transparency and oversight in spending public funds. 

That legal laundry list exactly echoes the LifeSport transgressions unearthed by the Express and confirmed in greater detail by the auditors. Yet Opposition MP Marlene McDonald, commenting on LifeSport in a I95.5 FM interview last Sunday, wondered aloud if the LifeSport projects were “secret”, so assured was she that the PNM’s twin transgression was now a dead issue. Such rhetoric from Ms McDonald was especially ironic, since she herself had adamantly refused to answer questions on this fund until forced to do so by a Freedom of Information order.

But the scholarship programme and LifeSport are far from the sum total of the investigative demands made of the relevant officials. With no forward movement identifiable on this account, the heavily laden investigative files of the CoP, the DPP and the Integrity Commission are now receiving more of the same, only with heightened expectations from the public for earlier action.  

 Such expectations are unlikely to be fulfilled, however, given the constraints of staff, expertise and equipment in all three offices. Yet citizens are at least entitled to regular progress updates on these investigations. The IC, in particular, has always cited confidentiality as its excuse for hiding information, but it is standard practice in more advanced polities for officials to provide public updates without revealing confidential details.

 In any case, if the Police Service, the Office of the DPP, and the IC suffer from resource deficiencies, these should be made known and corrective measures implemented. Lip service unsupported by concrete steps also undermines the credibility of the Prime Minister, the AG and any other Government spokespersons who proclaim no-holds-barred commitment to investigate and prosecute all wrong-doing. 

 All this bluster has, after four years, not even reached the stage of charges being laid. That curious failure may say much about T&T’s politicians on both sides of the divide.