|GRIFFITH: NO WITCH-HUNT TO FIND WRONGDOERS |
BY JULIEN NEAVES Monday, May 26 2014
WITH the controversial multi-million dollar LifeSport Programme being transferred to National Security from the Sports Ministry, National Security Minister Gary Griffith says that any criminal elements uncovered in the programme will be dealt with if found but he is not going on a “witch-hunt”. He also reported that he will be bringing in members of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force to assist with the programme, and he is assured that they will not be intimidated by any criminals.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced that the programme would be transferred at the People’s Partnership four-year anniversary rally on Saturday at Mid Centre Mall, Chaguanas. She noted “given the concerns”, both the National Security Ministry and the Finance Ministry will conduct a full audit on the programme.
The concerns include reports of misspending and allegations that funds were being used to finance criminal activities. There are also allegations that a Muslim organisation in Carapo was in control of the lion’s share of the $113 million programme.
Griffith, speaking to Newsday via telephone yesterday, said he will be verifying what is going in the programme. He pointed out that 1,200 positions cannot be confirmed though they are being utilised and filled by participants “or ghost participants”.
“Is it that the criminal element infiltrated the project?” he asked rhetorically.
He questioned whether the programme was being utilised to fund gang-related activities.
On the Defence Force involvement, Griffith said the members will be playing a “big part” in restructuring the LifeSport programme.
He pointed out that there are several sporting teams in various disciplines within the Defence Force including football, hockey and netball, and there were a number of present and past players who can assist.
He said it was not only about learning to play a sport but what happens after, and it was the ideal avenue to develop character traits such as leadership, teamwork, discipline, uniformity and adhering to detail.
Griffith noted that another benefit of utilising the Defence Force is that it will ensure if there is a situation with organised criminals involved in programme there is no concern about fear or intimidatory tactics as “no criminal group can intimidate the military”.
On the allegations of criminal elements, Griffith said he deals with facts and if it is verified that criminal activities are taking place it will be turned into evidence and it was “not a matter of witch-hunting”.
Griffith stressed he will not be “throwing the baby out with bath water” and the programme has a number of positive aspects and more than 800 youths have benefitted.
He noted one part of crime prevention is secondary crime prevention through getting youths away from crime. He pointed out that there was the Hoop of Life programme and he will also be launching “Goals for Life”.
Griffith said he has no intention of aiding and abetting criminal activities in any programme, whether the Unemployment Relief Programme, Hoop of Life or LifeSport, and these criminals were using their profits not to develop their communities but to destroy them.
“My plan is to cut their financial umbilical cord,” he stressed.
On the audit he noted that this will be done through the Finance Ministry but the National Security Ministry through law enforcement and the Defence Force will assist with acquiring information and passing on any documents.
He stressed he will not turn a blind eye to any malfeasance and if criminal conduct is uncovered “let the chips fall where they may”.
Questioned about his earlier concerns about the programme while serving as security advisor to the Prime Minister, Griffith said he cannot comment on what previous National Security ministers did but will do what needs to be done. He noted he will not cover up things and hope the problem goes away as “eventually it would blow up in your face”.
Finance Minister Larry Howai has also raised concerns about the financial conduct of the programme and reported that an audit had been previously conducted.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley also commented on the issue during an interview yesterday on radio station I95.5FM. He noted that Griffith had previously advised the Prime Minister about “unsavoury elements” in the programme. He pointed out that despite these concerns the budget for the programme jumped from six million to 113 million dollars.
“I mean the thing is frightening. You have to ask yourself was the Prime Minister on the job?” he asked rhetorically.
He said that the Prime Minister was defending Sports Minister Anil Roberts because she “somehow has a great view of him”.
“When you trade responsibility for that then the Government is not functioning as it should,” he added.
He stressed that it was the Prime Minister who had placed Roberts and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, who was facing the prison litigation controversy, in Cabinet and it was being populated by persons unfit for the position.