CRIME WILL WORSEN
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, July 27 2014
Crime will get worse.
This was the prevailing sentiment among co-ordinators and participants in the Life Sport programme in the wake of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s announcement on Friday that the controversial initiative has come to an end. “What do you think will happen when you have hungry mouths to feed and the youths are on the streets again?” asked activist Hassan Maharaj, who has been involved in the Life Sport programme in Mt D’Or since its inception in 2012. “The Prime Minister has stopped the programme but she has put nothing on the table for the youth in the meantime. They keep saying that crime is at a lower rate. Well, it will get worse now,” he predicted.
“This look like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly will be hitting the streets again. While them politicians hugging up and smiling, the youths feeling the pain.” In addition, Maharaj said as of late yesterday, officials and participants, at least in Mt D’Or area, were yet to receive formal word of the programme’s termination. “What will happen to the youths’ pay this month, you only have a few more days to go and nobody has said anything,” he said.
The Prime Minister tabled the report on Life Sport by the Ministry of Finance in the House of Representatives on Friday, weeks after ordering a Government probe into the controversial programme. Life Sport has been plagued by allegations of impropriety as well as concerns that the programme was fuelling criminal activity.
Among other things, the document found that the programme was tainted by theft, fraud and poor oversight on the part of its managers.
Persad-Bissessar has since forwarded the report to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, Head of the Police Service Reynold Cooper and the Integrity Commission.
In the interim, she said, Government will seek alternative means to assist at-risk youth in the country either through existing social initiatives or by creating new ones. The Life Sport programme, which sought to assist at-risk youths between the ages of 16 and 25, was the brainchild of Sports Minister Anil Roberts.
Yesterday, tears flowed at the Mt D’Or Community Centre as many of the young men involved in the programme gathered to ponder their future. They arrived at the centre, their usual meeting place, from as early as 8.30 am and did not leave until around 1 pm. “Right now, we have nothing. We stranded,” declared a forlorn-looking OC Harry, 25.
He observed that, yet again, that “poor black youths” were being placed at a disadvantage.
“We are not the people eating ‘ah food’. It is the top heads. Why we have to be the victims?” Harry asked. He said the group is contemplating protest action outside of the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair if there was no replacement for Life Sport. Harry, one of 60 youths in the Mt D’Or Life Sport programme, said his fellow participants simply did not know where to turn since several of them were young fathers and dependent on the $1,500 a month stipend.
“They were keeping their lives in check and look, now, our backs are against the wall,” he said. Harry told Sunday Newsday that he benefitted tremendously from the Life Sport.
“I could not even play football and speak properly. I even learn how to cook,” he said, lamenting that many of the young men will be without hot meals — breakfast and lunch — during the day. Another youth, Kadeem Mathews, 19, who has also been involved with the Life Sport from its inception, is already on the hunt for a new job.
“I will have to go and get a lil grocery work and I does wash car on the side. I am a mechanic by trade so we will see how it go,” he said.
Asked how he felt about the termination of the Life Sport, Mathews said, “I feeling real sad because I am the breadwinner in my family and I have to make sure there is groceries on the table for everybody to eat. I have mummy, granny, meh sister. It have about six people in the house. Daddy leave we and gone with he woman since we was small, about ten years now.”
Mathews gave Sunday Newsday a breakdown of how he spends his stipend. He said $500 is spent on groceries, while another $500 is used for bills. The remaining $500, he says, is used for clothes and incidentals. Maharaj, who tried to console several of the young men, said the stipend helped to feed many families in Mt D’Or.
“It used to make them feel like somebody but now there is only sadness. While the prime minister was saying serve the people, serve the people, the people in charge of the Life Sport were only taking from the people.”
Meanwhile, a coach who was assigned to the Mt D’Or Life Sport programme expressed concern about his status. “I had to hear about the termination of the programme through the grapevine,” he complained. The coach, who claims to be an involved member of the community, said he had an enjoyable stint in the programme. “My experience has been a positive one. I like what I do because I love interacting with children,” he said. The coach regarded the Mt D’Or Life Sport programme as a model one, especially in the area of discipline. He took issue with those who are alleged to have given the programme a bad name in the report.
“They have taken advantage of a programme that was meant for young people and we were trying to make a difference,” he said.