LifeSport, the brainchild and baby of Sport Minister Anil Roberts, has been laid to rest.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday announced the “immediate” termination of the controversial programme, following the tabling of the “Report of the Central Audit Committee on the Comprehensive Audit of the Payment System
of the LifeSport Programme” in the House of Representatives, at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, yesterday.
What the Prime Minister did not address was whether Minister Roberts can still find a place in her Cabinet,in the face of the damning findings.
As she disclosed some of the findings, she expressed her own “shock”, “deep, personal disappointment and dismay that a programme that was intended to save lives, to build lives, was used by a group of people for fraud and personal gain”.
The same sense of shame was mirrored on the faces of those on the Government benches. The Sport Minister, on the contrary, wore an expression of feigned bravado. His colleague, National Security Minister Gary Griffith, who had so often spoken critically about the LifeSport programme, had an air of vindication. For the People’s National Movement (PNM) MPs, their faces reflected it was a case of deju vu.
The report will be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the acting Commissioner of Police (CoP), the Integrity Commission and the head of the Public Service.
Noting the Audit Committee raised questions regarding possible complicity by officers of the ministry, given the widespread nature of the breaches, the Prime Minister said: “What is most shocking and disappointing is the fact that given the usually stringent nature of the bureaucratic processes in obtaining approvals for projects, implementing programmes and monitoring progress, no action was taken to halt or prevent what the Audit Committee found.”
The Prime Minister bemoaned the fact that a group of people derailed the good intentions of the programme, giving their support to criminality, in some cases, rather than to the country’s young people. “For those who really sought to improve their lives and positively benefit from this programme, I am sorry that this had to happen,” Persad-Bissessar stated.
Because of the actions of a few, this programme will have to be halted,” she said. “However, do not despair .... But through other working programmes, we will reach out to our vulnerable. We will look to ways to assist vulnerable persons through other programmes, and new ones if necessary,” she said.
“We will reach you (the youth), we will help you and we will provide the opportunities you need to build your lives,” she added.
The Prime Minister assured the population as Government moved forward implementing social programmes, it would not tolerate wrong-doing, corruption and the abuse of programmes, “meant to save our people, for selfish, personal gains”.
The Prime Minister said she had instructed the Attorney General to turn the report over to the DPP and CoP “to investigate, detain and prosecute those guilty to the fullest extent of the law”.
She added that given the fact the Central Audit Committee raised the possibility of complicity of ministry officials, the report would also be referred to the Integrity Commission [which at the moment is non-functional] and the head of the Public Service “for further investigation, consideration and action”.
“Any person and any group who seeks to subvert the law and the public benefit would pay the full price of the law!” the Prime Minister declared.
The Prime Minister recalled the LifeSport programme was “conceptualised and formulated as part of a comprehensive programme to try to roll back the tide against criminals and criminality in our country. It was specifically focused on saving the lives of young men (between the ages of 16 and 25) who needed to be protected from the criminals who routinely preyed on them, and (the programme was meant instead) to help shape positive futures for these young people”.
The Prime Minister said the one important message coming out of the audit report was the urgent need for procurement laws to become fully operationalised. The procurement bill is currently before the House of Representatives. She said this issue drives home the point of how important procurement laws are to each and every person, family and community in the country.
The Prime Minister stressed while her Government would continue to champion the new procurement regime, the country can rest assured she had stood firm on the principle that progress must be underlined by integrity and benefit for the population.
LifeSport was launched in June 2012 and started in August 2012.
The Prime Minister said the report revealed a number of discrepancies which included:
1. There were widespread breaches of proper procurement practices
2. The approval given by Cabinet was not strictly adhered to
3. Persons at the co-ordinating level may have been involved in criminal activity
4. There were several instances of fraudulent activity by suppliers to
5. There may have been widespread theft of equipment from the
6. There may have been breaches of the Proceeds of Crime Act
7. Exorbitant and questionable payments were made in several instances
8. There was poor control and
monitoring of the Programme by
the Ministry of Sport.
—The full Lifesport audit report can be
read online at www.trinidadexpress.com