Ian K Ramdhanie, msC,
Even though the audit into the Life Sport programme is still ongoing, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has dismissed claims by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley that the programme is being used to “fund criminal elements in the East/West corridor ahead of the 2015 general election.” Last Tuesday, Rowley said at a public meeting in Arima that the Life Sport programme “was deliberately and rapidly expanded to fund criminal elements in preparation for next year’s general election.”
He said the plan fell apart with the May 4 murder of Dana Seetahal, which, he said, “alerted security agencies to corrupt practices.” The audit was announced last month after the programme was removed from the Sports Ministry to the National Security Ministry in the face of allegations of widespread mismanagement and corruption. In response, Persad-Bissessar, in a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister, 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. “In fact, these claims point to confusion in his mind; he may not yet have realised that the PNM’s approach to government of using State agencies to fund criminal gangs was rejected four years ago. He clearly believes that we are operating the way he did in Government. His allegations are a complete distortion.”
Persad-Bissessar noted that “It is even more irresponsible to attempt to deliberately mislead the public in his attempts to fix the very serious credibility problem suffered by himself and his Opposition party.” She noted that there was no credible proof to Rowley’s claims.
“Dr Rowley is finding it difficult to provide any credible defence for the PNM’s tenure and is now fabricating lies to blame others for his party’s failures. Such deliberate distortion damages whatever credibility Rowley has left and demonstrates that in order to get the public’s attention he would do, say and promise anything, regardless of whether it is the truth.”
The Prime Minister said, “This not only makes Dr Rowley and the Opposition a threat to the fundamental tenets of democracy, it makes them a very dangerous threat to our country. Nothing Dr Rowley says can be taken seriously. He simply cannot be trusted or believed.”
Death threats for programme managers
Since the audit was announced last month, top officials of the programme, including deputy director of physical education and sports in the Sport Ministry, Ruth Marchan; Life Sport programme director Cornelius Price; and another official have claimed they have received death threats.
Some finance officers have expressed concern about their physical safety, while Marchan and Price are now said to be under police guard. In an interview last Monday, Finance Minister Larry Howai said the audit might be completed within the next few weeks. He said the audit officers had not given him any interim or final report yet.
“They indicated they needed some additional time as it is 41 centres they have to visit to confirm things and they have to confirm with everyone. Also, the nature of the confirmation tends to be a little difficult,” Howai said. Efforts to contact Howai for further comment proved futile.