Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Reaching for the red card

The PM’s LifeSport troubles could worsen. It’s in dispute whether Carapo-based criminals control the programme, but corruption in LifeSport is real. For the April 2014 report, the Auditor General examined one month’s payments. For that one month the Auditor General found 59 LifeSport participants paid $88,500 for St Joseph were also paid $88,500 for Maloney. An additional $76,500 was paid to 51 participants for Maloney, resulting in payments to 110 Maloney participants instead of the maximum 60. Six Maraval participants were paid in same bank account. 

The PM has placed Minister Anil Roberts’ political future on the line for LifeSport, but when Minister Howai’s full LifeSport audit is completed, the PM should be fighting another governance nightmare.    

The connection between LifeSport and Carapo is not accidental. Six Carapo electoral districts with 3,700 registered voters delivered almost 2,000 votes to Minister Roberts in his 2010 D’Abadie/O’Meara win over the PNM’s Karen Nunez-Tesheira by 1,100 votes. Carapo is critical to Roberts and the People’s Partnership. But, if it is found that the Partnership funded criminals and there are deficiencies in the accountability for the money paid out, the Government will lose its argument against alleged PNM “dealings” gangs. 

It is very significant that for 2013 the Auditor General could not audit  Life-Sport fully. Her analysis of the Ministry of Sport’s Internal Audit Programme of Work for 2013 revealed that high risk areas such as the LifeSport Programme, Development Programme, and Infrastructure Development were just not included for review. Somebody wanted to hide something.

From the limited documentation encountered in reviewing the multi-million dollar Ministry of Sport’s subsidies and transfer programme, the Auditor General recalled her 2013 finding that four equal amounts totalling $1,996,400 were paid in one cheque to a company for the “Taking Sports to Rural Areas Project” for four regions, but this exceeded the Permanent Secretary’s authorised limit of $1 million. 

Further, separate tender documents, recommendations, requests for approval and payment vouchers with similar dates and information were seen for each of the amounts. According to the vouchers seen, the payments related to ten grounds in each region—a total of 40 grounds. 

However, in response to the query of the Auditor General, only 17 grounds were identified and there was no evidence on the vouchers seen that work was carried out satisfactorily. In any event the payments were made from the “Non-Profit Institutions” account and not the Upgrading of Corporation Grounds account. The Auditor General found weak controls for this “Non-Profit Institutions” account.  

In the April 2014 report the Auditor General rediscovered this lucky Ministry of Sport contractor. Five payments totalling $680,455 were made to two companies with a common director for work of the same description undertaken at five recreation grounds. The $1,996,400 payment had been made to one of these companies. 

Further, original invoices for two payments totalling $251,859.20 to one company were not produced for audit and three invoices for equal amounts totalling $259,350 for catering of meals for the Lifesport Programme in three different areas did not reflect any business address or telephone contact number for the supplier.

With lots of evidence of poor governance, criminals and state contracts will be a tipping point in the election campaign. LifeSport findings could end of the PM’s pretensions of innocence on criminals and taxpayers’ money for election support. And with a complete loss of innocence, the PM can stop feeding the fable that somehow she can lead a government but not be responsible for its ongoing troubles.   

Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer