PORT-OF-SPAIN: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says she has asked her Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to hand over copies of the audit of the controversial LifeSport program to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police “to investigate, detain and prosecute those guilty to the fullest extent of the law”.
Persad-Bissessar told Parliament last week that the audit had revealed a number of discrepancies, including procurement breaches; the involvement of some persons in criminal activities; fraud by suppliers; theft of equipment; breaches of the Proceeds of Crime Act and a deviation from the mandates of Cabinet.
Former National Security Minister, Austin “Jack” Warner, who described the program as a “cesspool of corruption”, said that in another country, the Minister of Sport, Anil Roberts, would have resigned.
The main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) has filed a motion in Parliament calling for the censure of Roberts as a result of the program that they said was riddled with corruption.
Persad-Bissessar, defending her government’s decision to launch the audit, said that in May, a newspaper publication brought to light allegations of wrong-doing and misuse of resources in the LifeSport program.
“Based on the very real possibility of there being irregularities I immediately instructed that the program be transferred to the Ministry of National Security, and that the Ministry of Finance and the Economy, through its Central Audit Committee, conduct a full audit,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar told legislators that a thorough and focused audit has now been completed and that because the program was intended to “positively impact some of our most vulnerable, younger citizens, I believe it is appropriate that the report of the Central Audit Unit on the LifeSport Program be made public, by being tabled here in the House of Representatives”.
She said the program began in June 2012 and, at the time of the audit, 43 centres had been established throughout the country to cater for young people between the ages of 16 and 25.
Persad-Bissesar said that the audit also raised questions regarding possible complicity by officers of the Ministry, given the widespread nature of the breaches.
“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 programs and monitoring progress, no action was taken to halt or prevent what the Audit Committee found,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar said that she was disappointed at having to immediately halt the program because it was formulated to stop crime and protect the innocent.
“It was specifically focused on saving the lives of young men who needed to be protected from the criminals who routinely preyed on them, and helping to shape positive futures for these young people.
“We see our young men as future fathers, future role models, future professionals, who need care, attention and opportunities. The criminals see them as pawns and as persons who could front crime and violence. To the criminal elements, these young men are a means to an end, and are, in their view, expendable,” she said.
The Prime Minister told legislators that given the fact that the Central Audit Committee has raised the possibility of complicity by Ministry officials, the report will be sent to the Integrity Commission and the Head of the Public Service for further investigation, consideration and action.
“Citizens of our country can rest assured that as we move forward implementing programs meant to positively impact our communities, we will not tolerate wrong-doing, we will not tolerate corruption, and we will not tolerate the abuse of programs meant to save our people, for selfish, personal gains.
“In fact, if there is one very important message coming out of this Audit Report is the urgent need for procurement laws to become fully operationalized,” said Persad-Bissessar, who did not mention Roberts during her statement to Parliament.