Friday, January 19, 2018

LifeSport Hold-Up

PS Creed not around to provide info for audit


Death threat: Ruth Marchan

Andrew Manswell

Even as the Central Audit Unit of the Ministry of Finance is investigating the controversial LifeSport programme in the Ministry of Sport, its permanent secretary, Ashwin Creed,  remains out of the country and unable to provide answers required by the Unit on the programme’s expenses.

As PS, Creed is the ministry’s accounting officer who would have final say on how money for the programme was eventually spent.

LifeSport’s expenses since 2012 have amounted to about $400 million.

Creed has been in and out of the ministry since April.

LifeSport was not audited by the Auditor General for its 2013 report but several discrepancies were noted in the ministry’s payments.

On April 14, Creed contacted head of the Public Service Reynold Cooper requesting “emergency leave”, faxed him a letter with the request and left Trinidad the same day.

The Sunday Express understands that it is because of death threats he received linked to the LifeSport programme.

Cooper has confirmed these events.

The Sunday Express understands that Creed returned to Trinidad for a brief visit and then departed again.

“Mr Creed went on his business. Approval would have been granted to Mr Creed for two weeks of leave on May 13. He left the country on May 13, and it was only on May 26 or 27 you began to hear the Prime Minister (Kamla Persad-Bissessar) ordered a probe of the LifeSport Programme,” his attorney Peter Taylor said.

Even after the Prime Minister directed a probe be conducted, as the ministry’s accounting officer, Creed was not present to assist the officers in the audit.

Two permanent secretaries yesterday said if an audit was being conducted in the ministry, ideally the PS should be there.  And given the controversy that the LifeSport programme has generated, it was even incumbent that Creed be present to account.

By June 3, Creed was still away.

Taylor had said then: “Mr Creed called Mr Cooper on June 3 and indicated to him—‘listen, I need more leave, I will be communicating with you in due course’. He called back on June 7 and a fax was sent to his office at the Ministry of Sport indicating that he sought leave from the Minister of Sport (Anil Roberts).”

Taylor explained that Creed cannot be disciplined for taking his leave and extending it because he required “personal family business, which requires an extensive period of time”.

Creed’s leave ends tomorrow.

The Sunday Express was unable to contact Cooper to find out when exactly Creed was supposed to report to work.

According to the 98th Salaries Review Commission, a PS is entitled to 30 calendar days of vacation. But the Sunday Express understands that a PS usually accumulates a lot of time off during the year.

When the Sunday Express tried to reach Creed through Taylor on when he was expected back into the country, Taylor replied: “I am unable to say.”

The Sunday Express also asked Taylor if it could address questions to Creed through him and Taylor replied, “I would advise him”.

Yesterday, Ruth Marchan, the deputy director of Physical Education and Sport at the Ministry of Sport, told the Sunday Express that she was being advised on her media statements by Creed.


A messy affair

Marchan told the Sunday Express that bringing the case to the media was her best defence to protect her life after she received a death threat.

She had blamed the threats on boxing promoter Buxo Potts and a ministry official.

Potts denied the threats in an interview with the Sunday Express last week.

The Sunday Express understands that before allegations were made by Marchan about Potts, they had enjoyed a cordial friendship.

Marchan and her husband Edward Marchan have been recipients of cheques from the Unified Promoters Boxing Association—a company co-owned by Potts, which has had sponsorship from the Sport Ministry.

Marchan’s husband was at one point employed as a head coach at Yan’s Sporting Academy, which is also owned by Potts.

Marchan was also linked in a relationship with a senior Ministry of Sport official.  Asked about this and other personal allegations, Marchan yesterday responded: “Prove it.”

In an interview on Friday, Potts said the problem with Marchan started in 2011. He accused Marchan of being disingenuous with the corruption she chose to highlight in the press.

He said: “The young men who the LifeSport programme was designed to assist, they are the victims. The structure of the programme is one of the greatest.  If you look at the structure of the programme, it can make a difference to the young men’s lives. It’s a good programme. The real criminals in the programme is not the young people.” 

Marchan did not want to comment on Potts’ statement.

Creed could not be reached for comment.


The Jamaat bodyguard

On June 26, Marchan’s bodyguard Curtis “Tallman” Gibson was murdered in his bed at his home in Malabar.

She said while Sport Minister Anil Roberts was right that Gibson was not employed at the ministry, he was involved in the LifeSport programme.

Marchan explained that Gibson was brought on board because of his relationship with Imam Hassan Ali, the head of the Carapo-based Jamaat.

She said the Imam asked for Gibson, whom he considered a son, to be his liaison on the ground. She said he was paid by the Imam and not the ministry.

Police records list Gibson as a repeat offender.

He was jailed in 1999 for drug possession. He had appealed this sentence and was jailed for two years with hard labour. There are two outstanding warrants in his name—one for failing to attend court and another for failure to pay a fine.

There was no firearm licence issued under his name.

During an interview with the Sunday Express on June 11 with Marchan, Gibson was present and displayed a gun.

Marchan admitted that she had a good rapport with “the people on the ground” from the Rastacity gang to the Carapo-based Jamaat al Muslimeen but feared repercussions from inside the ministry.  A statement from the Sport Ministry on Friday said Marchan had no authority to speak about Life Sport.

“The management of the LifeSport Programme wishes to inform that Ms Ruth Marchan has no authority to speak on behalf of the LifeSport Programme as it is not formally under her purview at the Ministry of Sport,”  it said.

About LifeSport

LifeSport was a brainchild of Sport Minister Anil Roberts.

It is one of the Government’s most expensive social programmes which was designed to target criminals.

The programme, which was started in 2012, had a budget of $6,647,000.

LifeSport pays $1,500 a month to “criminal elements” to get them interested in sports. A daily meal allowance of $75 is catered for but a contract is usually given to a catering company to provide meals for the participants.

According to Ministry of Sport officials, the programme is supposed to exist in 33 centres and have 60 people at each centre. A stipend is paid to the participants of the programme and an allowance of $30,000 is paid to a coordinator of the programme. 

The funding and recipients of LifeSport were identified in an investigative series by the Express newspapers. 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 Sport to the Ministry of National Security. National Security Minister Gary Griffith said LifeSport will now be directed by the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force.

For 2014, the Government has already spent just over $267 million on the LifeSport programme.

According to the Draft Estimates of Recurrent Expenditure for the Financial Year 2014, an estimated $113,502,273 was transferred to the LifeSport under the heading Pathway Programme.

The loan for the LifeSport programme was taken by the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (Sportt).

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.