It was clear there was more than one reason that yesterday was truly Private Members’ Day in Parliament—the day for Opposition business. And the Opposition didn’t hesitate to show it.
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Life Sport audit: Malabar company gets $5.5m in less than two years
The audit into Life Sport shows that a Malabar-based company, DC Tent Rentals, collected $5,590,225 from Life Sport in less than two years. A review of the general ledger revealed that for the periods 2012 to 2013 and 2013 to 2014, DC Tent Rentals collected the sum for the rental of tents, chairs and portable toilets. According to the audit, “Given that these payments are for the rental of tents, chairs and portable toilets, they appear to be very excessive.”
The audit also raised queries about a $110 per meal payment paid to DC Tent Rentals, which is not an authorised caterer for the programme. The $110 figure, the auditors stated, “differs significantly” from the $70 Life Sport normally paid in total for breakfast and lunch. Life Sport paid its contracted caterers $25 for breakfast and $45 for lunch. As of June 2014, 43 caterers were contracted to provide meals to the programme’s participants.
However, the contents of the audit under “Rentals/Purchases” showed that on November 11, 2013, Davoughn Cummings of DC Tent Rentals was paid $50,000 by Life Sport for the rental of maxi-taxis and the supply of meals. The payment relates to the provision of eight 25-seater maxi-taxis and 200 meals (breakfast, lunch and drinks) for a trip from Malabar to Guayaguayare.
A September 5, 2013, invoice submitted by DC Tent Rentals and approved by Life Sport on September 30, 2013, showed that the company was paid $28,000 for the one-day rental of eight 25-seater maxi-taxis. The rental of each maxi was $3,500. Also, Cummings’ company was paid $22,000 for 200 meals, consisting of breakfast, lunch and drinks, bringing the final payment to $50,000. Each meal was priced at $110. DC Tent Rentals is a supplier of tents, tables, chairs and portable toilets.
Based on the number of maxi-taxis and meals provided, the audit stated, several centres were enlisted to make the trip. “However, the invoice submitted did not contain any information regarding the centre/s involved nor on what day the trip occurred.” Queries were raised in the audit as to “if the trip took place on a week day when participants would have already been provided a meal from the authorised caterer/s for the centre/s involved. Therefore, there would be no need for Mr Cummings to supply any meals.”
The audit stated that if the trip occurred on a weekend then a contracted caterer/caterers should have been used to supply the meals. “This could have resulted in a savings of $8,000.” According to the audit, this was encouraged by both the past and current directors of the Life Sport Programme, Henry Charles and Cornelius Price. “They both insisted that the caterers must be paid for the number of meals as per the contracts,” the audit stated.
The audit also found that the number of meals supplied in most instances was equivalent to or slightly greater than the average daily attendance. “However, what was most instructive was that the invoices submitted were almost always equal to the full participants’ enrolment.” A message left on Cummings’ cell phone yesterday was not returned.
Programme director of Life Sport Cornelius Price said he would continue to maintain that as long as a caterer supplied meals “whether ten or five participants come out to the centre you have to pay them.” He said the prices of meals would vary depending on where it was served. Price said recently he received a $185,000 food bill from a caterer “and I made him slash the bill to $90,000. I had a big argument in the office over this. Everybody know this.”
Prakash calls for Anil’s head
Sport Minister Anil Roberts may have been spared the axe by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar but his political party, the Congress of the People (COP), is calling for his head. Persad-Bissessar laid the details of the two-month long audit in Parliament on Friday. Last week, Roberts, in an interview with the Sunday Guardian, stated that he planned to resign if the audit linked him to any impropriety.
While Roberts’ name did not feature in the report, the report found evidence of procurement breaches, breaches of the Proceeds of Crime Act, breaches of Cabinet decisions, and fraudulent acts under the programme. It has been referred to both Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard and acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams.
“In light of these findings and further investigations, and the very grave implications arising from them, the Congress of the People again calls on Minister Roberts to recuse himself from his ministerial responsibilities until these investigations are concluded and decisions taken in respect of their findings,” Ramadhar said in a media release yesterday.
Ramadhar said the issues highlighted in the audit report were “a very grave cause for concern regarding serious breaches of the law and the practices of good governance and management of the Life Sport programme.” He said a situation of such widespread breaches “cannot exist outside of considerations of the constitutional principle of ministerial responsibility which forms part of the law and practice of our democratic system.”