Saturday, December 16, 2017

Rushing past LifeSport orphans

Keith Subero logo54

Mark Fraser

What of the thousands of at-risk youths who were in LifeSport programme? The reports revealing that the programme was just the front store for the Sport Ministry’s real action, a brand-tub of bountiful financial goodies, seem to ignore the plight of those youths, the relief they were promised, and the poisoned generation that we may have created, instead.

The website of the Ministry of Finance tells of a surprise the attendees experienced last November at LifeSport’s prize-giving function, when a proud youth, one Sydney Friday of La Brea, took the microphone to thank programme managers for saving the lives of youths, and his appeal to other youths to stay with the programme.

Last week, in his departure letter to Parliament, Anil Roberts expressed no concern for them, nor did he care to remind as Ella Andall warned in song years ago, “there’s a missing generation and soon if we don’t find them they are going to find us one day”. Roberts did however tell us later that Finance Minister Larry Howai should be fired for presenting a “flawed and doctored” audit report on the programme to the Prime Minister.

And Trade and Communication Minister Vasant Bharath admitted that the programme did not reap the intended success. “I think the population expects that mistakes would be made along the way…government isn’t going to get everything right, but it is always important to the population how government deals with it subsequently,” Bharath said. How did Ministers Howai and Bharath “deal” with the now defunct programme?

The State Enterprises Performance Monitoring Manual 2011 makes it clear that Howai, as Finance Minister, and Bharath, as Corporation Sole (corporate status under Act No 5 of 1973) are accountable for the 60 such agencies which Howai boasted created $5 billion in profits in 2012.

The Sport Company (SporTT) is one of those agencies. According to the manual, it was supposed to be monitored under the Finance Ministry’s (Corporation Sole) Investment Division’s strict and detailed performance indicators. The Sport Ministry is given responsibility for its day-to-day operations, but SporTT’s board minutes are required to be submitted to the division within one week after confirmation.

The division’s reporting structure also outlines monthly, quarterly and annual schedules for the submission, for example of contracts awarded, financial and procurement statements, internal audit reports, strategic plans etc.

The 182-page manual stipulates the functions of chairmen, board members and CEOs, with stringent guidelines on integrity in public, ethical procurement, tendering and contract processes, etc.

Given the above, how did LifeSport become a brand-tub and/or a political slush fund? How under the watch of Ministers Howai and Bharath was SporTT allowed to breach procurement regulations and the Proceeds of Crime Act?

The PM has handed the matter over to various investigative agencies, but should the buck stop at the Sport Ministry? Shouldn’t we be asking Ministers Howai and Bharath, and ultimately the PM, how did persons bypass the Ministry’s precise regulations “with bags ah money” totalling some $400 million? A reader reached out to me stating: “Last week, I felt ‘raped’ by the thieves in LifeSport; this week I felt a ‘coup’… from the PM’s Constitution Amendment Bill.”

Bharath said it is important for the population to see how the Government deals with crises.

Well, the PM will try to convince the House today that the three-pronged proposals in the Bill are not a clumsy diversion. Already Merle Hodge, a member of the Constitution Reform Commission, has branded the run-off proposal “anti-democratic” and the package as “an episode of legislative railroading”. Fixin’ T&T, an alert watchdog NGO, felt that the PM’s urgency is misplaced; instead, her immediate attention should be given to campaign financing and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Property Bill.

The Joint Consultative Council also made it known—although senior public servants maintain that the public service structure is unprepared for the procurement legislation—that it does not support “any action, including amendment which has the potential to cause any delay of the passage of this landmark legislation”. The PM says her Bill means more power to the people. “More power to the people? I don’t think so,” Merle Hodge has replied. Will that power include our at-risk youths?

• Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has since followed a career in

communication and management.