Deputy chairman of the LifeSport Implementation Committee Ishwar Mootoo says no approval was ever given by his team for the $34 million contract paid to EBeam Interact to teach mathematics and English.
Mootoo, in a telephone interview with the Sunday Express, said when the proposal was brought before the implementation committee, it was rejected for two reasons—there was concern about the sum of the contract and the centres were not ready to accept the technology which the proposal had outlined.
The LifeSport Implementation Committee was set up by former Sport Minister Anil Roberts in June 2012, shortly after LifeSport was launched.
It was chaired by Forbes Persad and comprised private sector individuals and well as employees from the Ministry of Sport.
Persad resigned several months ago and deferred all questions to Mootoo.
It was this team that managed LifeSport for the first year after it was set up before the director, Cornelius Price, was brought in to manage it.
“We have minutes to show that we did not sign off on that contract,” said Mootoo.
He said this position was outlined to the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago and was surprised several months later when he heard that the contract had been awarded.
It was the Sport Company which awarded Adolphus Daniell the $34 million contract for which he did no work.
Daniell’s $34 million payment was the single biggest payment of the programme for no work unearthed by the Central Audit Committee’s audit into LifeSport.
LifeSport was shut down by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last month.
The Sunday Express sought to ascertain just who gave approval for the Sport Company to approve Daniell’s contract despite the rejection from the LifeSport Implementation Committee, the rationale for contracting Daniell and whether any objection to the contract was raised by permanent secretary Ashwin Creed, as the ministry’s accounting officer.
The Sunday Express contacted chairman of the Sport Company Sebastien Paddington to ascertain what made the company approve and pay the contract to Daniell but he declined comment, explaining that legal advice was being sought on the matter.
Even as the Sunday Express sought answers as to why a second $17 million payment was made in spite of no work, Paddington deferred comment until he had spoken to the company’s attorneys.
The Sunday Express also called several directors—Reynold Bala, Norris Blanc, Nisa Dass, Anyl Gopeesingh, Sabrenah Khayyam, Kent Samlal and Harnarine Singh—who all declined comment.
When the Sunday Express contacted the Ministry of Finance for an explanation how this payment went undetected, an official said that when the Sport Company applies for the money allocated to it in the budget, it does not always specify exactly what the payment is for, just a general request for the sum which it requires.
One permanent secretary explained that in Government contracts, usually nothing or at most, ten per cent is paid up front.
And it is only on completion of a project or job, once invoices are sent in, that final payment is made.
“That contract would have had to be an anomaly, a departure from normal procedure so you can tell that other players would have had to be in concert,” said the permanent secretary.
“When you apply for funds from the Ministry of Finance, you have to explain how the funds will be used. That is how the system works. I don’t understand how there could have been no documented proof that work was not done, and still pay out that sum,” the permanent secretary explained.
Finance Minister Larry Howai had previously explained: “This particular contract was approved by the Sport Company (SporTT), not by the ministry. State enterprises can and do enter into contracts without Cabinet’s approval. As far as I can recall, Cabinet would not have been aware of this contract at the time that it was approved. The Ministry of Sport proceeded with it through the Sport Company rather than through the Ministry of Sport itself.”
Daniell, through his company EBeam Interact Ltd, was solely selected to provide mathematics, English and technology lessons to the participants of LifeSport from December 2012.
However, EBeam was paid two installments of $17 million- the first installment which represented 50 per cent of the fee was paid on June 14, 2013 and the second payment was done on February 11, 2014.
On March 11, 2013—three months after he was supposed to start teaching and three months before he was paid $17 million—Daniell wrote a memo to the Sport Company.
He e-mailed a copy to the Sunday Express which he outlined what he thought were the key flaws in the programme:
1. The top down prioritisation drains the limited resources before they can filter down to the bottom where the impact is intended. Sadly, the greatest benefits that the participants continue to enjoy are free meals and unearned stipends with no strings attached.
2. The execution of management policies as it pertains to impact on the participants does NOT rely on the participants’ involvement or require them to take personal or collective responsibility for any outcomes. In fact, the current approach is a ‘hand-me-down’ approach which reinforces the prevailing dependency syndrome and exposes management to severe criticism when there is any failure, real or perceived, to meet the needs of the participants who are not made to be responsible for anything other than their collecting material things.
3. Failure to appreciate that there are proven system-dynamics principles which must be used in transitioning a complex, connected system from one state to another. This failure to understand and apply these principles have resulted in a lot of noise and vibrations within the LifeSport System, keeping it in the same state as it continues to use valuable resources in order to sustain the continuous internal noise and vibrations.
“In its present form, the LifeSport programme is on an inevitable collision course which calls for professional, sound, scientific intervention. If what is required is not undertaken, it would be futile to embark on the mathematics, English language or technology component,” he stated.
He said in order “to accomplish and sustain what is desirable, a scientific approach to ordering the processes throughout the entire LifeSport system must be undertaken as a matter of urgency. Without such an undertaking, the LifeSport programme is destined to reinforce the very things it was designed to eliminate, namely dependency, selfishness, unemployable youths who lack values and promote rising crime.”
“If I am expected to meaningfully contribute to the attainment of the LifeSport objectives and the success at the mid-term review, then I would have to lend assistance to the persons who are charged with the responsibility for execution and oversight in ordering the LifeSport System to achieve its desirable and measurable outcomes. If accepted, with immediate effect for the next three months, I would require the following:
1. That the programme director and his team be charged with the absolute responsibility for the overall execution of the LifeSport programme without ad hoc interference. In particular, the Programme Director must have the last say; of course, he will be held accountable by his superiors for the results produced.
2. That I will work with and through the programme director and his team to assist them in the implementation of an effective, scientific, operational framework.
3. I will specify what I need to conduct my work and must be given such within a responsible time frame.
4. All Cabinet defined and Ministry of Sport protocols should be observed.
5. Finally, in this regard, I will give of my time FREE of CHARGE as my personal contribution to my country, Trinidad and Tobago, at this critical time.
I trust that my requests will be given due consideration and quick approval, with or without further consultation. Regrettably, if there is no desire by the Ministry of Sport to embark on my proposed vital intervention then I would in conscience have to withdraw from further participation in the LifeSport programme and decline any contractual obligation as it relates to mathematics, English language and technology,” his memo stated.
While Daniell was paid, the programme never got started.
Daniell has said he has no intention of returning the money he was paid from the programme.
“The thing about it is, it is a non-issue because the only way under a contract anything is recoverable is if the other party is in default. There was never a single letter of complaint that I was in default of this contract. Not even a phone call,” he had said.