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Griffith to clean up Life Sport programme
The Defence Force is moving in to take full control of the Life Sport programme, says National Security Minister Gary Griffith. “No gang leader or group can intimidate the military in this country,” he said yesterday in a telephone interview. “By using the Defence Force in the Life Sport programme, if there are criminals intimidating people or infiltrating the system, they would not be able to do so any longer as the military will be in full control of the project.”
Griffith was asked about his plans for the controversial programme after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last Saturday pulled the programme from Sport Minister Anil Robert’s purview. Persad-Bissessar announced Roberts’ portfolio cut at People’s Partnership’s fourth anniversary celebrations at Mid Centre Mall, Chaguanas.
Roberts’ portfolio cut is the latest in a string of ministerial changes which the Prime Minister has made to her team in the last four years. Most recently this year, she fired Glenn Ramadharsingh from the Ministry of the People and Chandresh Sharma resigned from Tourism. Both currently face police probes on allegation of sexual misconduct and assault respectively.
Acknowledging there has been concern on the multi-million programme, she said given those concerns, it would be shifted to National Security and the Finance Ministry would do an audit of the programme also. Asked yesterday how he would be handling the programme which has been stricken with allegations that the Carapo arm of the Jamat al Muslimeen controls it, Griffith said there were positives in the programme which he didn’t intend to remove.
He said several hundred youths benefitted from it and he would ensure they didn’t lose the opportunity. “But my concern is with those benefitting illegally from it.” “Initial reports we have is that over 1,000 to 1,200 places in the programme aren’t being used. We therefore have to examine if it means criminal elements have infiltrated it and they are making a lot of money off this concept of ‘ghost participants’.”
Each of the 33 areas of the programme has an estimated 60 participants. A monthly stipend of $1,500 is paid a for every participant in the programme. Griffith said he had also learned of acts of intimidation: “I intend to improve the system overall inlcuding by incorporating the Defence Force into the programme. They already have several sporting teams and that expertise is valuable,” he said.
Asked about recent indications by a Carapo Jamaat leader that the group may have helped resolve “issues on the ground” and about questions where the National Security Ministry was concerned, Griffith said: “Anybody could say anything. I’m not targetting or labelling anybody, my concern is for a proper investigation and to ensure criminal elements who may have infiltrated the programme are removed to maximise the programme’s benefits.”
Griffith said many Defence Force members had sporting expertise and were represented among Soca Warriors and are national players at other levels of cricket, basketball, hockey, netball, rugby and track and field. He said Defence Force members would seek to improve the project by using personnel trained in those areas and would also assist participants with character building including discipline, leadership, team work and heeding instructions.
“This project is an ideal opportunity to use the asset of the Defence Force. National Security will handle the programme and as the Prime Minister said, Finance is doing an audit and let the chips fall where they may,” he added. Griffith who pledged soon after assuming office that he would not tolerate criminal gangs getting government contracts said National Security also had responsibility for the Hoop of Life programme which he intended to improve.
“We intend to take it beyond the court game and what players can do to improve themselves after they complete the game,” he added.
Life Sport PROBE
The programme, an initiative of the Ministry of Sport’s permanent secretary Ashwin Creed, seeks to teach life skills to at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 26 living in communities plagued by crime, such as Ali’s. Each programme seeks to engage at least 60 participants, who receive a $1,500 monthly stipend for their successful participation. Since its inception the project has received approximately $150 million in government funding.
Speaking at the mass public rally organised by the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) on Friday, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley referred to a letter from the permanent secretary in the Finance Ministry to Creed that questioned an instance in which Ali reportedly signed a letter in the capacity of the permanent secretary of the Sport Ministry.
National Security Minister Gary Griffith and Finance Minister Larry Howai have also spoken out against the programme, claiming there hade been discrepancies and concern over the allegations of the misuse of funds to finance criminal activities. Works and Infrastructure Minister Suruj Rambachan, speaking in Parliament on Friday, denied allegations linking the government to any misconduct in the programme.
On Saturday, addressing the People’s Partnership’s fourth-anniversary rally, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced that the project had been transferred from the Sport Ministry and would be placed under Griffith’s purview.