Thursday, February 22, 2018

Govt repays $150m LifeSport loan

The Government has spent over $150 million of taxpayers’ dollars to pay off two loans taken by the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) to fund the now-defunct LifeSport programme which targeted criminal elements for rehabilitation.

Finance Minister Larry Howai told the Sunday Express two loans were taken to finance LifeSport during the programme’s two-year existence. The loans were taken by SporTT from State bank First Citizens in 2013.

When the programme started in 2012 at a cost of $6.6 million, it was funded directly by the Government. As the programme increased in size, the two loans were secured to finance it since its cost had gone beyond what was originally budgeted.

Howai told the Sunday Expres­s one loan was paid off in December 2013 and the other was settled in February of this year. However, LifeSport still has outstanding debts and a request was made by the Ministry of Sport in June for an additional $8.8 million to pay off a LifeSport loan.

In June, during the debate for the Supplementation of the Appropriation for Fiscal Year 2014, the Ministry of Sport had requested $32.8 million more for LifeSport.

In the note, which was circulated to all parliamentarians, the $32.8 million was for the Ministry of Sport to pay:

1. $8,800,000—for SporTT to pay an outstanding sum of $8.8 million, which was accrued when the LifeSport Programme was started; 2. $24,000,000—requir­ed to meet the anticipated commitments for the operations of the programme to the end of the fiscal year.

When the Sunday Express queried whether the $32.8 million had been used to pay off the programme’s debts or loan, Minis­ter Howai said, “The funds have not and will not be released from the Consolidated Fund.”

And as of July 3, 2014, LifeSport had debts which amounted to $8,941,752.05, with only a balance of $148,570.34 in its account at First Citizens.

The list of outstanding cheques the Sund­ay Express obtained amounted to $8,941,752.05, which was exclusive of costs for staff and coordinators for June.

Outstanding cheq­ues are owed to the National Insurance Board, the Board of Inland Revenue, Columbus Communications, as well as multiple contractors for janitorial and maintenance services.

Sixty-eight jobs, which cost the Ministry of Sport close to $700,000 a month, were also lost when Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar terminated the LifeSport programme on July 25.

Persad-Bissessar’s decision came after she laid an audit, conducted by the Ministry of Finance’s Central Audit Committee into the programme, which revealed coordinators with criminal records, massive fraud, millions mis-spent, ghost centres, ghost participants and improper procurement.

In 2012, the programme was given $6.6 million. In 2013, the cost had multiplied over four times to $29 million.

By 2014, the programme increased in cost by $84.4 million to $113,502,273.

In the draft estimates of recurrent expenditure 2014, under the heading “Transfers to State Enterprises”, $154,133,000 was transferred to the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT)” for “Repayment of TT$77.2 million loan re: Pathway Programme”.

That would take the total sum transferred to LifeSport in 2014 to $267 million. From that sum, one educator, Adolphus Daniell was paid $36 million for which he did no work.

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has hired Senior Counsel Deborah Peake to examine whether the State can recover any of the mismanaged sums from the programme.

Inevitably, LifeSport forced former sport minister Anil Roberts to resign and the board of the Sport Company was fired. 

The LifeSport audit has been forwarded to the Commissioner of Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Integrity Commission and the Public Service for investigation.

“This was a programme that targeted criminal elements. These same people, some have court. Who don’t have court, some might make a jail in between for robbery. So when they leave, after you leave, we don’t dismiss you from the programme, you come back,” Ruth Marchan, LifeSport’s deputy director of Physical Education and Sport at the Ministry of Sport, had told the Sunday Express in an interview in June. Marchan remains in protective custody. 

Police are still investigating the murder of her bodyguard, Curtis Gibson, who was gunned down on June 26.