It was late one night in the 1990s. I was sitting in the back seat of a car.
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Bodyguard slain in bed
The future of the controversial Life Sport programme was thrown into further gloom yesterday, after employee Curtis “Tallman” Gibson was murderered days after he received death threats. Over a month ago, Gibson and two other Life Sport officials were reported as being put on a hit list by the criminal element said to be attached to the programme, after financial improprieties in the programme were exposed and an audit into the programme was ordered. In an interview with TV6 earlier this month, Ruth Marchan, the deputy director of Physical Education and Sport at the Ministry of Sport, said she, Gibson, Life Sport director Cornelius Price and two other Sport Ministry officials’ lives had been threatened.
Marchan said then that a plan by the ministry to expel the Carapo segment of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen from the Life Sport programme had resulted in the situation becoming tense, bringing with it the threats against her life and those of her colleagues. Fearing for her life, Machan is reported to have agreed to go into a police protection programme. Her fears reportedly came to pass around 1.15 am yesterday when one of the men she named as being marked for death was executed. Police said, Gibson, 42, was at his home at Pomergrante Avenue, Malabar, sleeping with his wife when a gunman kicked down their bedroom door and opened fire on Gibson. Gibson, who worked at the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC), died at the scene.
Police said he was Marchan's personal bodyguard and they believe his death was directly linked to his involvement in the programme.
The programme has been marred by claims of criminal elements prospering in it, with one of its co-coordinators even being held and released without charge following the murder of Dana Seetahal, SC on May 4. Two weeks ago, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley claimed that the Life Sport programme “was deliberately and rapidly expanded to fund criminal elements in preparation for next year’s general election.” In response a few days later, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar denied that the Government was funding criminals. “The fact that an audit has been mandated for the Life Sport programme is enough to make Dr Rowley’s deceptive claim baseless and without merit," she said.
Persad-Bissessar ordered Finance Minister Larry Howai to launch an audit into the programme and took it away from Sport Minister Anil Roberts, who had boasted it was his brainchild. The programme was then placed in the hands of National Security Minister Gary Griffith. Howai said recently, however, that the audit was being held up because the auditors were expressing concerns over having to go into “hot spot” areas to interview some people connected to the programme. The programme was geared towards at-risk youths who may not be academically inclined but allegations of poor management and corrupt activity were soon levelled against it.
When the programme first received funding in 2012 it was allocated $6.6 million. The following year it cost the State and additional $23 million and ballooned to over $113 million this year.
Marchan has claimed some $34 million was paid in two tranches for maths and English classes for the programme but no work was done to account for the monies spent. The murder toll for the year stood at 210 up to last evening. Calls to Griffith’s cellphone went unanswered last evening and he did not return messages.