Ria Rambally and Rosemarie Sant
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Life Sport director: Some things slipped through the cracks
Life Sport programme director Cornelius Price has admitted that the controversial programme, now being audited, has been faced with accounting and management issues and some things “may have slipped through the cracks” and not been done above board. Price broke his silence one week after deputy director of physical education and sport at the Ministry of Sport Ruth Marchan, who had received death threats, was offered a safe house by ILP chairman Jack Warner.
Marchan was placed in a safe house after the murder on June 25 of her bodyguard, Curtis “Tallman” Gibson, who along with two other Sport Ministry officials had also received death threats. The programme, which began in 2012 as a means to assist at-risk youth by providing a safe and positive learning environment, has been embroiled in allegations of financial impropriety and funding criminal elements.
Speaking at his Port-of-Spain office on Thursday, Price denied that the programme was financing criminals, but admitted that some of its participants “may have brushes with the law and challenges.” Questioned about Muslimeens being the beneficiaries of the programme, Price said based on the country’s Constitution, everyone—regardless of religion, race, colour, sex and class—has to be treated equally.
“There is no denial that Muslims are in the programme,” he said, adding there were others in the programme from different religious backgrounds as well. “This is a free country. You cannot deny people their rights nor discriminate.” Price could not confirm if the Muslimeens had been linked to criminal activity. “I cannot say that. I am not a police. I not doing the police work. The police have to do that and bring the evidence. You don’t label people and can’t prove it. You could end up in court.”
Last month, Price said, he was identified as a “substitute” on a hit list based on information he had received from the police. “The police came to the ministry informing me that they picked up information that some people want to do me harm and that my name was a substitute on a hit list.”
He said he was told that the hit had to be done on certain individuals and when his name came up “some people say well how you go do that?... that man (Price) is one of us and somebody bawled out that Price was the substitute. But nobody threatened me. I am not afraid of anyone.”
Insisting that no one could bully or intimidate him, Price said, “I can’t afford to be afraid of people. If you are afraid of people they will take advantage of you. The only one I am afraid of is God. I cannot live in fear. I put my trust in God, not man. But at the same time you have to be smart and cautious.” Price said people had been advising him to tread carefully because they heard that he was preventing people from getting money and was holding back payments.
Prior to the police officers’ visit, Price said, he had been observing his surroundings for a while. “I have on camera certain activities around my place which the police got. So when the police came I put two and two together.” Whatever assistance the police offered, Price said, he accepted. He added that Marchan was within her rights to seek protection for herself and her family. Price said he had seen Gibson around, though he was not a member of the programme but “might have been associated with certain groups.”
Price said some people had been trying to see what they could get out of the ministry and its system. “You have to block that sometimes...and sometimes you have problems in those areas. We have that challenge, as with the public service.” He said one of his challenges was that people did not want to follow rules, submit reports and monitor properly.
Asked if every cent could be accounted for and all operations were above board, Price replied, “There may be issues because things slip through the cracks. That was how things were done in the past, and when you try to change things it becomes difficult for people. I would not say that everything is above board. There are accounting and administrative issues, but we are trying to correct that. It’s a work in progress. You strive for perfection.”
Price admitted that procedures were not always followed. He said while Life Sport was under scrutiny from all quarters, URP and Cepep were far worse with certain elements operating within it. “Why people not auditing URP or HDC?” Since assuming the post as programme director in March, Price said he had been trying to correct the wrongs.
Al-Rawi should be taken before Privileges Committee—Price
On Tuesday, National Security Minister Gary Griffith said, in the Senate, that approximately $90,000 in cash was put into paper bags and given to one person to distribute to 60 Life Sport participants. Price said he was perplexed by the statement since participants are paid by cheque and through the banks. “The cheques are placed in brown envelopes and distributed at the ministry,” Price said. “Some people must have seen it and think it was bags of money. People are very loose and fast in T&T.”
It was also reported on Tuesday by PNM Senator Faris Al-Rawi that taxpayers pay $7 million monthly to provide breakfast and lunch for Life Sport participants. Al-Rawi said the $7 million contract was given to the wife of permanent secretary in the Sport Ministry, Ashwin Creed. Al-Rawi said the meals cost $75 each, when compared to the $9 box lunch pupils and students get through the School Feeding Programme.
Price feels that Al-Rawi should be taken before the Privileges Committee for making unfounded statements. He said Life Sport paid $25 for every breakfast and $45 for each lunch, prepared by 40 caterers. When tabulated, Price said, the overall monthly cost of all the meals amounted to less than $4 million. “I lost a lot of respect for Al-Rawi. He should be taken before the Privileges Committee for blemishing people’s character.”
He described Life Sport’s negative publicity by the Government, Opposition and media as “untrue, libellous, vexatious and slanderous.” He said that it was recently brought to his attention that certain employees in the Ministry of Sport were feeding information to people outside. “A lying tongue is an abomination unto the Lord. I will tell you that a lot of lawsuits will be coming up just now because people have gone about peddling wrong information in the press. People must check their facts before they say things.”
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