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The fallacy of LifeSport
While Thursday’s resignation of Anil Roberts as the Minister of Sports brings an end to the political career of one of the more controversial ministers of recent vintage, it also raises serious questions about Cabinet’s oversight of public expenditure and its implementation of programmes aimed at stemming the rising tide of criminality in this country.
At the centre of both issues is the LifeSport programme—the brainchild of Mr Roberts—which was terminated by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last week Friday after it became clear that the programme had been captured by criminals. In giving a short history of the programme, the Prime Minister told Parliament on July 25 that Cabinet agreed to the implementation of LifeSport by the Ministry of Sport through the Sport Company of T&T in August 2011.
The programme started in August 2012, and was initially meant to reach 60 participants in 33 centres throughout the country, meaning that it catered to close to 2,000 participants between the ages of 16 to 25 years. LifeSport was designed to use the medium of sport—basketball, cricket and football along with a life-skill component—to assist in the fight against crime with the participants receiving a monthly stipend of $1,500.
In her presentation to Parliament, Mrs Persad-Bissessar said the latest audit of the programme—the third in its short life—identified procurement breaches, a deviation from the Cabinet’s mandate, fraud by suppliers, theft of equipment, breaches of the Proceeds of Crime Act and poor control and monitoring by the officers of the Ministry of Sport. Apart from those issues outlined by the Prime Minister, the unraveling of the programme—which targeted young, mostly black men perceived to be at risk of being ensnared by criminals—raises the issue of whether LifeSport was properly conceptualised and designed in the first place.
From the Prime Minister’s own words, it is clear that Cabinet approved the spectacularly uncontrolled disbursement of taxpayers’ funds mostly to young men of African descent to pursue remedial education and sporting activities. At another level, the creation of LifeSport must have been as a result of Cabinet’s perception that the State-funded secondary school system, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars a year, was not the appropriate mechanism to deal with these young men.
On the one hand, this may mean that Cabinet feels the education system—which has absorbed the largest individual chunk of the national budget over the last more than five years—is inadequate to the task of the remediation and re-socialisation of tens of thousands of young people who go through the system every year.
On the other hand, the painful question must be raised as to why did Cabinet think it appropriate to build an anti-crime programme around popular sporting activities, when basic common sense would indicate that the focus of most young people between the ages of 16 and 25 should be on completing their education, learning vocational skills or otherwise preparing themselves for the world of work.
In approving LifeSport, Cabinet deliberately designed and then consigned nearly 2,000 young, men to spending two years focussing on what for most of them would only be a leisurely pastime, rather than a form of income. It would have been more appropriate—and would have required greater thought and planning—if the programme had passed on to the young men marketable skills, along with values such as hard work, discipline, ambition and perseverance.