Sunday, February 25, 2018

‘Not a LifeSport cheque’

In seeking to dismiss a story titled “LifeSport exposed” which aired on TV6 News on Monday night and was published in the Express yesterday, Sport Minister Anil Roberts has not answered where almost $2 million of taxpayers’ dollars went.

CCN journalist Mark Bassant has reported that Jim John (not his real name to protect his identity) claimed he cashed close to $2 million in cheques from the LifeSport programme and had never worked a day.

John had produced cheques with his name from the Ministry of Sport and claimed he cashed them, took five per cent and then gave the cash to top-ranking officials from the ministry.

At a news conference yesterday, Roberts said the cheque on which Bassant based his article was not a LifeSport cheque, but a cheque issued from the Ministry of Sport.

“Let me state from the on-set that LifeSport is an organisation separate and apart from the Ministry of Sport. LifeSport has its own logo, its own organisational structure, its own directors, its own bank account, its own cheques and its own signatories,” Roberts said. 

He said the cheque produced by Bassant was “fallacious, wrong and misleading”.

Roberts, however, never explained how an individual with a criminal record with the claims he made was the recipient of cheques from the Ministry of Sport.

In trying to account for how cheques would have been issued, Roberts said: “This is the Ministry of Sport that spends $112 million a year for national sporting organisations, caterers, janitorial, elite funding, all sorts of things across the board. To print a Ministry of Sport cheque, make an entire story about LifeSport and taking money from taxpayers, I only wish somebody would take the time to check the facts before printing.”

Roberts also took issue with the fact that comments he made at a news conference last week about LifeSport in general were used in Bassant’s article.

He said the allegations made by John were never put to him directly.

To this end, Roberts said he had penned a letter of complaint to the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago.

“I take this rather seriously. Media in T&T, very professional, have done very well. However, this sort of, this is unnecessary, it hurts many people across the board and it is basically untrue. Take your time and, as media practitioners, get the truth. Dig deep, work hard. That is all. Good bless,” he said. 

Questioned by the Express on whether he misled Parliament on June 27 when he claimed 25 students were given LifeSport scholarships to the Victory Academy, Roberts responded: “Absolutely not. We have information. We will deal with. I did not mislead the Parliament in any way. The information given to me was as I gave it.

“I would never mislead Parliament as you would, Ms Javeed, mislead the nation by stating that you spoke to a pastor. This pastor has sent a fax saying he never spoke to you at any point in time. You will have to deal with that and I will never mislead Parliament in any way.”

When the Express asked: “Twenty-five children have scholarships?” Roberts replied: “Any other questions?”

The Sunday Express reported this week that contrary to statements made by Roberts in Parliament, 25 individuals from the controversial programme have not been granted visas or scholarships or are even currently enrolled at the Christian Victory Academy in New York, USA.

“The Sunday Express obtained an e-mail from Pastor Anthony Seaton from the Christian Victory Academy, who outlined how the institution became involved,” the article had stated based on the e-mail received. 

Seaton had penned an e-mail to a senior Government official, which the Express obtained, about how he had become involved in the LifeSport programme. 

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar ordered an audit into LifeSport after it was revealed that the programme was riddled with financial irregularities and was funding criminals. She also transferred LifeSport from Roberts’ ministry to the Ministry of National Security. 

The audit is to be completed this week.