NATIONAL Security Minister Jack Warner yesterday said while basketball star Shaquille O'Neal's visit did not cost the State "a cent", the entire Hoop of Life initiative will cost the Government $12 million.
Warner, speaking at a press conference yesterday at the Ministry of National Security office at Temple Court, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, yesterday said it was "private companies" that foot the bill for the former NBA superstar's one-day visit last Saturday.
Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, Sport Minister Anil Roberts and Minister in the Ministry of National Security, Collin Partap also attended the media conference.
When pressed for further information on which private companies sponsored the event, Warner would only say, "I think Dr Moonilal did say that private sponsors brought him here and that's what private means".
This though is in direct contradiction to what Warner said on Sunday, when he was quoted as saying that bill for O'Neal's visit would be paid by two Government Ministries; his and the Ministry of Housing.
The Hoop of Life project, a community basketball competition, seeks to create more interaction among young people in distressed communities. It is being used as part of the crime-fighting initiative by Warner.
Warner said though the first prize was $1 million, half of it would be given to a community outreach project chosen by the winning team. The other half will be dispensed in equal tranches over a six month period.
"And if in any part of that six-month period they are charged by the police, they lose the payment," Warner said.
Warner said the programme involved 1,300 participants and another 286 people for administration, each earning a $250 stipend.
"Several key benefits can be achieved from this investment, so to speak," he said, adding that basketball was simply a tool to create healthy interactions between communities.
"This programme that we selected 58-60 communities to erect basketball courts and provide nets and hoops and so on and give those teams uniforms and stipends," he said.
Warner compared the cost for the competition to one under the People's National Movement plan for the just the Morvant /Laventille area, which was then budgeted for $13.8 million, but would only have benefitted that specific community.
"Why weren't people asking questions then? I know why they concerned, because they feel that anything this Government does must be attacked vehemently and criticised," he said.
Warner said the critics were all from an "age gone by" and not from the youths that were participating.
"I have not heard one young person oppose this programme, but I have heard people 60, 70 and 80, people in walking sticks, criticising this programme," he said.
"Where are the young people, ask them what they think," he said.
With regards to O'Neal's participation in the Hoops of Life programme, both Warner and Roberts defended using a foreign celebrity over a local one. Roberts said local celebrities were already doing their part to help motivating the nations youths and O'Neal's biography was similar to the youths in the hotspot areas chosen for the launch of the programme —Beetham Gardens, Port of Spain and the Old Train Line, Marabella.