Sunday, December 17, 2017

Creed 'back in country'

As Central Audit Committee sends letter...

The Central Audit Committee of the Ministry of Finance has written to Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Sport Ashwin Creed, requesting he make himself available for an interview as it seeks to finalise the audit into the controversial LifeSport programme.

Creed returned to the country yesterday, his attorney, Peter Taylor, said.

Creed requested leave until July 31, but had indicated his intention to proceed on pre-retirement leave after it is finished.

The completion of the audit, which was supposed to be done by yesterday, has been pushed back a further two weeks.

In an e-mail to the Express two weeks ago, Creed had said: “There were three audits over which I presided and I am making myself available for the fourth one.

“Talk of me holding up the audit is absolute rubbish since the Director of the LifeSport programme has not yet even been interviewed to date, neither has any official correspondence rea­ched my desk as to when I am required to assist with the audit.”

The Sunday Express was unable to reach Creed. But attorney Taylor said yesterday Creed would make himself available for an interview.

On Friday, Minister of Sport Anil Roberts was interviewed by the Central Audit Committ­ee.

The committee has also written to Ruth Marchan, the deputy director of Physical Edu­cation and Sport at the Ministry of Sport, requesting an interview.

Marchan, who claimed she was in a safe house provided by Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner after receiving death threats, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In a statement yesterday, the ministry said:

“Official letters have been dispatched to both PS Creed and Ruth Marchan requesting that they make themselves available to be interviewed on LifeSport by the Ministry of the Finance and the Economy.”

Asked if their unavailability would obstruct the outcome of the audit, the ministry responded:

“The LifeSport audit can be completed, if necessary, without Mr Creed or Ms Marchan being questioned directly. Of course, this would not be the ideal scenario, but it is possible to audit the programme without their direct input.

“Should this prove to be the case, the auditors would substantiate their findings and conclusions from the documentation and from discussions with other officers and from alternative secondary sources such as discussions with residents, security services, religious officials who may have certain information, invoices that would support the fact that orders were placed, etc, that would corroborate what the officers of the ministry, have identified in the audit.”

Finance Minister Larry Howai, in an e-mail yesterday, said while he had confirmed earlier this week the draft of the report would have been ready by this weekend, it would was not yet ready.

“However, in discussions with the auditors this week, we identified a few areas where further work was required to verify certain conclusions and I requested that the additional verification take place.

“The report has taken longer than expected originally as the issues that needed to be addressed ballooned beyond what was originally envisaged based on statements made by certain officials of the programme which then needed to be verified.

“As you know the auditors cannot accept the statement of any individual and would have (as far as practical) [to] verify against hard evidence and docu­mentary proof that validates the statement and obtaining that information can be difficult at times.

“In addition, as you quite rightly identified we have been having some challenges in meeting with all officials of the programme,” he told the Sunday Express.

He said the work had taken longer than envisaged “given the extensive nature of the verifications that were required to confirm what work was actually done and the scrupulous care that had to be exercised in reviewing documents such as invoices, etc, and the limi­ted resources of the unit”.

He observed while there is a need for the public to know what has been discovered to date, “it would be a breach of process to give insights into the report at this stage given that the Prime Minister has not seen the contents of the report.

“After it is handed over, the Prime Minister will determine the next steps from there”.

The funding and recipients of LifeSport were identified in an investigative series by the Express newspapers into the funding to the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen.

LifeSport is a programme in the Ministry of Sport which pays criminals $1,500 a month to play sport.

The programme has been riddled with financial irregularities since its inception.

Following the stories, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar directed Finance Minister Larry Howai to initiate an audit into the programme and transferred it out of the Sport Ministry to the Ministry of National Security.

National Security Minister Gary Griffith said LifeSport will now be directed by the Trini­dad and Tobago Defence Force.

The bodyguard of Marchan, Curtis “Tallman” Gibson, was murdered on June 26.

Last week, the Sunday Express reported all contractors of the programme were hand-picked friends of Ministry of Sport officials, soldiers and a Newsday journalist, Walter Alibey.

The Guardian reported yesterday Alibey has been suspended for ten days while Newsday conducts an investigation.

“The LifeSport audit can be completed, if necessary, without Mr Creed or Ms Marchan being questioned directly. Of course, this would not be the ideal scenario, but it is possible to audit the programme without their direct input.”

—Finance Ministry