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Life Sport official gets $90,000 in hand for paper bag payouts
Approximately $90,000 in cash was put into paper bags and given to one person to distribute to 60 Life Sport participants, National Security Minister Gary Griffith said yesterday. He was relating to Parliament reporters facts he said he had about the programme and which he had given to Finance Ministry auditors now probing the programme.
Griffith has halted with immediate effect all previous procedures that allowed such payment to anyone involved in Life Sport. Participants will have to get a bank account to receive payments from now on. He also said the name of the programme should be changed after the audit “to signify a new start, as an unfortunate stigma has already been affiliated with the existing name.”
Commenting on claims by People’s National Movement (PNM) senator Faris Al-Rawi on Tuesday that a relative of the Sport Ministry’s permanent secretary had been given a Life Sport catering contract and other allegations, Griffith said he had received similar information from sources who felt uncomfortable about coming forward. He said he met with auditors and brought that to their attention.
He said: “It is blatant that we have irregularities in Life Sport. A blatant example is a situation where funds were paid in cash and the security officers (on the programme) were told.” Griffith said funds for the 60 participants in that programme — $1,500 each and totalling $90,000 — were put into a paper bag and given to one person to distribute. He said the person would have signed to say they received it. “Are we still in an era when people don’t have a bank account?” he asked.
“I know this happened as a fact, as the people actually involved in the process did it and the auditors will meet with those people. “But why wasn’t a bank account used? Paying people with cash is where you will get the perception of ‘ghost’ participants. Things like that are what I am putting an end to because those things, whether or not corruption or incompetence or a combination of both, I intend to weed out.”
On whether the audit report might reach the police, he said questionable activities and financial mismanagement which should not exist in these times — such as having paper bags of cash to distribute to participants “on a street corner“ — showed that people involved in the financial running of Life Sport were either naive or possibly involved in criminal activity.
Griffith said he intended to input the necessary safeguards within the programme to ensure greater accountability and transparency, in line with the Finance Ministry’s stipulations, to ensure the elimination of any illegal activities and irregularities that may currently exist within Life Sport.
He said until the audit was completed, all previous financial procedures that allowed payment to anyone involved in Life Sport had ceased with immediate effect and every cent to be approved for any form of payment, including payment to participants, must now come through the relevant department of the National Security Ministry.
He added: “To ensure ghost gangs are eliminated, if they do in fact currently exist within the programme, a better system will be implemented, with each participant having to provide a bank account in order to receive payment. “This way, the days of dropping tens of thousands of dollars in cash to one person who would promise to pay the 60 participants are over.”
He said he was also informed certain undesirable elements within the programme had used intimidation tactics and bullying of officials within Life Sport but, he said, that was subject to further probe. Asked about his relationship with Sport Minster Anil Roberts, from whose portfolio Life Sport was cut when the Prime Minister ordered the audit, and who has described Life Sport differently from Griffith, he commented:
“I think we are all on the same page. We want to ensure it continues in the right way (though) it might not be perfect. “I am fully aware there have been questionable activities in Life Sport, either through corruption or incompetence or a combination of both. You can’t question that. You would have to be naive to say it was perfect.”
Asked if he was saying Roberts was naive, Griffith said: “I think he would say, ‘Wait till the audit comes out before making statements’ but I say, I have facts to show there have been questionable activities and I intend to deal with it.”