|LIFE AFTER LIFESPORT |
By NALINEE SEELAL AND SASHA HARRINANAN Monday, July 28 2014
GOVERNMENT has no intention of abandoning the hundreds of unemployed young men from high risk communities and already Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has given instructions that the controversial programme be restructured and up and running in about three weeks time.
Newsday understands that the programme will be renamed and all loopholes plugged to ensure that there could be no haemorrhaging of State funds from the new managers who will now be administrating the programme.
Sources revealed the Prime Minister is contemplating putting the new programme under the Ministry of National Security or the Ministry of Social Development; two ministries which are involved with social programmes for persons with low incomes and those who fall below the poverty line.
Newsday also understands that the decision to restructure the programme was discussed at Cabinet last week Thursday and sources said the Prime Minister was eager to have the revised and new look programme running to assist the poor and unemployed youths in high risk communities.
Sources also revealed that the remaining funds in the Life Sport programme will be used to run the restructured programme.
Yesterday, Minister of National Security, Gary Griffith told Newsday, “We are not going to throw away the baby with the bathwater, and I want to indicate that this new and restructured programme should be up and running in three weeks time and those young men who genuinely benefitted from the programme need not fear about their future.”
He said that before the Prime Minister took the decision to shut down the Life Sport programme she considered the fact that hundreds of young men received a monthly stipend of $1,500, which went towards supporting their families, while at the same time learned skills to prepare them for future opportunities
“This is not your average Prime Minister. This is a Prime Minister who has a heart, who genuinely cares about the people she serves and she is anxious to have the programme restarted but in a restructured manner,” Griffith said.
Newsday understands that several coordinators and managers who were part of the former Life Sport programme would be replaced.
An audit carried out by the Ministry of Finance found rampant impropriety and instances of Life Sport funds being used to fuel crime and gang violence.
The audit also discovered that persons were paid large sums of money for work that was not carried out. Cheques were made out to companies that were not even registered in the Life Sport programme among other allegations.
On Friday the Prime Minister ordered that the programme be shut down following the findings of the audit and referred the matter to the DPP Roger Gaspard, the acting Commissioner of Police, the Integrity Commission, and the head of the Public Service Commission Reynold Cooper. Senior police officers were also said to be pleased that the existing programme was shut down and a new programme will take its place, as they admitted that portions of the programme did benefit some young people from keeping away from crime.
In the wake of financial impropriety and possible criminal conduct found to have taken place in the now defunct Life Sport programme, the Persad-Bissessar administration is considering having the National Security Ministry play “a bigger role” in future social programmes.
Griffith said the ministry already oversees several similar programmes including the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Military-Led Academic Training (MILAT) and the Military-led Youth Programme of the Apprenticeship and Re-Orientation Training (MYPART).
Griffith said they have been “very instrumental in crime reduction” and “corruption-free” because of the “discipline” the ministry is known for and because of the involvement of “a lot of aspects of law enforcement” in said programmes.
Hence the likelihood of the National Security Ministry getting more involved in social programmes.
“I think the direction we are going in is that National Security can, and would be, playing a bigger role in social programmes to ensure criminal elements do not infiltrate them, because when that happens, it affects the productivity of the project in the first place.
“So National Security can very well start playing a larger role in these social programmes but it does not mean that they must be under the ministry,” Griffith noted.
He assured that the new programme to replace Life Sport would “have checks and balances, transparency, so that it will not be infiltrated by criminal activity.”