Thursday, January 18, 2018

Griffith: LifeSport a welcome initiative


no witch hunt: Gary Griffith

Mark Fraser

National Security Minister Gary Griffith said yesterday the transfer of the LifeSport Programme to his ministry was a welcome initiative.

In a press release yesterday, he said it will fit neatly into the ministry’s many social programmes and will complement the Citizen Security Programme and the National Mentorship Programme as these are already operational in many communities which the LifeSport Programme is targeting. Griffith said he noted the LifeSport Programme had been the target of negative reports, and that he intended to revamp and weed out all the ghost participants benefitting from the programme, if the situation exists. 

In a series which began in the Sunday Express it was reported that the multi-million dollar LifeSport was directly funding the Jamaat-al-Muslimen in Carapo. It was reported to the Ministry of Sport the son of the Jamaat leader in Carapo is co-ordinator of the LifeSport Programme in Carapo. Overall the LifeSport Programme has been riddled with financial irregularities and was littered with ghost names.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced that the now controversial LifeSport Programme would be transferred from Anil Roberts s’ Ministry of Sport to the Ministry of National Security. The Prime Minister also indicated her intention to instruct the Ministry of Finance to conduct a full audit into the programme.

A Sunday Express story yesterday quoted Griffith as saying he had pointed out to Government that the LifeSport Fund was financing criminals.

Griffith sent a press release in response to the story which said he wished “to emphasise that even though he intends to do what it takes to clean up and remove all elements of gangs and financial irregularities in the LifeSport Programme, he has no intention to make any public statements to pinpoint anyone at this time in relation to these specific concerns, until after the proper financial audit is conducted by the Ministry of Finance and investigations are completed by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.”

He added that he only comments on facts after investigations would have been conducted. 

Griffith said since investigations are currently being pursued, he would refrain from making public statements as it would be grossly improper and inappropriate for him to specify or identify any one until the investigations and reports are completed.

 “There have been many reports in the public domain about gang infiltration into the URP and HDC Programmes, and more recently the Life Sport Programme and information relating to criminal activities by certain groups operating out of Arouca, Maloney, Arima and environs. Minister Griffith says he intends to take a personal interest to provide law enforcement officials and their agencies with all the necessary tools required to put an end to these unacceptable actions if confirmed.”

He said Trinidad and Tobago would not be bullied by any criminal element. He added he intends to cut off their financial supply, which they do not use to assist their communities, but rather to import illegal drugs and weapons to coerce and pay impressionable young gang members to commit heinous criminal acts, resulting in them becoming casualties.

Griffith said it is these so-called self-proclaimed community leaders who are the “Big Fish”, and they would no longer be allowed to swim within State institutions to ply their criminal trade and he had no intention of backing down and would not negotiate with cold blooded criminals in any way.

The press release stated, “This is not a witch hunt, but I have no intention for the needs and right of security for the many, to be compromised by the few rogue element gang leaders. 

The release added that Griffith was proposing “to reform the Hoop of Life Programme  with a focus on cultivating the positive  character of all participants, not just during the 48 minutes of a basketball game, but from the 49th and beyond.”

He said he intends to improve the concept of the Life Sport Programme by having Defence Force personnel take operational control of this Programme, this he said, was to engender positive and responsible behaviour among participants after they  would have left the basketball court. 

“The Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force has several sporting teams, each one being among the best teams in the various sporting disciplines in the country, and there is a reason for this.   Additionally, the Defence Force sports teams have numerous present and past players who represent our country at a national level  in football, cricket, basketball, rugby, netball, track and field and hockey to name a few. 

“Minister Griffith intends to establish a specific Sport Company Unit in the Defence Force, upon which the members of these teams can utilize their talent via coaching and training participants in the Life Sport Programme, whilst also using their first duty to remove any corrupt element in the Programme if any possible act of intimidation is attempted, if some may feel that they have an entitlement and obligation to control a State project. 

The Life Sport Programme, which started at $6.6 million in 2012, increased to $29 million in 2013 and by 2014, the programme increased in cost by $84.4 million to $113,502,273.

It was an initiative of the Ministry of Sport’s permanent secretary Ashwin Creed. Its intent was to introduce sport and life skills to boys between 16-25 years old to curb crime in high-risk areas