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Jack: Cops will be out for Hoop of Life
The Hoop of Life initiative will cost taxpayers an estimated $12 million. The cost, however, to bring basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal to Trinidad last weekend to launch the initiative at Beetham Gardens, Port-of-Spain, was borne solely by private sponsors. No money was paid by the State.
That was revealed yesterday by National Security Minister Jack Warner during a press briefing at the ministry’s office, Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain. “When the Government brought Shaquille O’Neal here to this country to save our young men from going to prison it did not cost the State a cent,” Warner said.
Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, who also spoke, said the private sponsors, who funded O’Neal’s visit, wished to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted. The initiative is expected to kick off on August 1 but Warner warned any player charged by the police would forfeit his right to take part in the competition and his stipend, to be paid by Government, of $250 a week
He said there would be a high police presence during the games. Warner said T&T must view the initiative from a broader perspective as it would assist in nation-building. He said when compared to the cost of feeding the country’s 3,493 prisoners a year, which amounted to $392 million, the Hoop of Life initiative was a small price.
The price to feed a prisoner a day was $312. He added: “You cannot put a price on anybody’s safety or their comfort but anything this Government does must be attacked and criticised. “They don’t give it a chance to work and in doing so all you see are the biases of people from days gone by.” Asked to reveal who were the private sponsors and the amount of money shelled out Warner said:
“They are private sponsors and that’s exactly what the word means.” The initiative, he added, was not the answer to eradicating crime. He said: “It is not meant to be the cure for crime. Some people believe it is synonymous as a policy for crime. It is not. “It is one of the mechanism we intend to use as a social intervention on crime.”
He made reference to July 30, 2009 when the then PNM government launched the Morvant/Laventille Intervention Initiative at a cost of $13.8 million.The aim was to provide “comfort” in terms of community awareness and support with the expectation of a reduction in serious crimes. he said. He added: “That money was to be used in the improvement and physical environment and provide relief in terms of a reduction in terms of community fear.
“Where the money was spent? Where it went. I’m still looking among the files.” He said when the People’s Partnership Government assumed office, Morvant/Laventille was still woefully neglected. He said the Morvant/Laventille Intervention Initiative was changed to Making Life Important in 2011.
He added: “From that programme evolves the Hoop of Life but there would be other programmes to fight the scourge of crime attacking the country.” In depressed communities, where the initiative would be targeting, Government also would be shelling out money to implement infrastructure, like basketball courts, he said.
Warner said Government also would be moving to hire motivational speakers and provide psychological counselling to youths from depressed communities taking part in the initiative. “We want to bring them on board and show them a new way of life,” he added.
About the Hoop of Life
The initiative will span between five to six months and is expected to last three years in the first instance. It will involve 58 communities but two other communities are expected to be included. All teams must be community players and teams will only register 12 players. Each player will be provided with free uniforms granted by Government as well as travel and insurance benefits.
The initiative involves 1,000 players and 300 referees. There are 286 officials, comprising administrative staff and people to maintain the basketball courts. No team will be accepted with names such as “Rebels”, “Marijuana Boys”, or “G-unit” Warner added.
The first prize will be $1 million, half of which will go towards a community building project of choice. The rest of the money will be paid to the members of the winning team in parts over a six-month period. But if during that period a player is charged by the police the money willľ be lost, Warner said. The second prize is $500,000 and the third is $250,000. Special prizes also would be awarded for the most disciplined team and the team with the most community support.