Controversial T&T LifeSport programme terminated after damning findings

(Trinidad Express) LifeSport, the brainchild and baby of Sport Minister Anil Roberts, has been laid to rest.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday announced the “immediate” termination of the controversial programme, following the tabling of the “Report of the Central Audit Committee on the Comprehensive Audit of the Payment System

of the LifeSport Programme” in the House of Representatives, at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, yesterday.

What the Prime Minister did not address was whether Minister Roberts can still find a place in her Cabinet,in the face of the damning findings.

As she disclosed some of the findings, she expressed her own “shock”, “deep, personal disappointment and dismay that a programme that was intended to save lives, to build lives, was used by a group of people for fraud and personal gain”.

The same sense of shame was mirrored on the faces of those on the Government benches. The Sport Min­is­ter, on the contrary, wore an expression of feigned bravado. His colleague, National Security Minister Gary Griffith, who had so often spoken critically about the LifeSport programme, had an air of vindication. For the People’s National Movement (PNM) MPs, their faces reflected it was a case of deju vu.

The report will be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the acting Commissioner of Police (CoP), the Integrity Commission and the head of the Public Service.

Noting the Audit Committee raised questions regarding possible complicity by officers of the minis­­try, given the widespread nature of the breaches, the Prime Minister said: “What is most shocking and disappointing is the fact that given the usually stringent nature of the bureau­cratic processes in obtaining approvals for projects, implementing programmes and monitoring progress, no action was taken to halt or prevent what the Audit Committee found.”

The Prime Minister bemoaned the fact that a group of people derailed the good intentions of the pro­gramme, giving their support to criminality, in some cases, rather than to the country’s young people. “For those who really sought to improve their lives and positively benefit from this programme, I am sorry that this had to happen,” Persad-Bissessar stated.

Because of the actions of a few, this programme will have to be halted,” she said. “However, do not des­pair …. But through other working programmes, we will reach out to our vulnerable. We will look to ways to assist vulnerable persons through other programmes, and new ones if necessary,” she said.

“We will reach you (the youth), we will help you and we will provide the opportunities you need to build your lives,” she added.

The Prime Minister assured the population as Government moved forward implementing social programmes, it would not tolerate wrong-doing, corruption and the abuse of programmes, “meant to save our people, for selfish, personal gains”.

The Prime Minister said she had instructed the Attorney General to turn the report over to the DPP and CoP “to investigate, detain and prosecute those guilty to the fullest extent of the law”.

She added that given the fact the Central Audit Committee raised the possibility of complicity of ministry officials, the report would also be referred to the Integrity Commission [which at the moment is non-functional] and the head of the Public Service “for further investigation, consideration and action”.

“Any person and any group who seeks to subvert the law and the public benefit would pay the full price of the law!” the Prime Minister declared.

The Prime Minister recalled the LifeSport programme was “conceptualised and formulated as part of a comprehensive programme to try to roll back the tide against criminals and criminality in our country. It was specifically focused on saving the lives of young men (between the ages of 16 and 25) who needed to be protected from the criminals who routinely preyed on them, and (the programme was meant instead) to help shape positive futures for these young people”.

The Prime Minister said the one important message coming out of the audit report was the urgent need for procurement laws to become fully operationalised. The procurement bill is currently before the House of Representatives. She said this issue drives home the point of how important procurement laws are to each and every person, family and community in the country.

The Prime Minister stressed while her Government would continue to champion the new procurement regime, the country can rest assured she had stood firm on the principle that progress must be underlined by integrity and benefit for the population.

LifeSport was launched in June 2012 and started in August 2012.

The Prime Minister said the report revealed a number of discrepancies which included:

1. There were widespread breaches of proper procurement practices

2. The approval given by Cabinet was not strictly adhered to

3. Persons at the co-ordinating level may have been involved in criminal activity

4. There were several instances of fraudulent activity by suppliers to

the programme

5. There may have been widespread theft of equipment from the


6. There may have been breaches of the Proceeds of Crime Act

7. Exorbitant and questionable payments were made in several instances

8. There was poor control and

monitoring of the Programme by

the Ministry of Sport.

—The full Lifesport audit report can be

read online at

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Delcidio do Amaral

Brazil corruption probe widens; Senate leader, BTG Pactual CEO arrested SAO PAULO/BRASILIA, (Reuters) – The chief executive of Brazil’s biggest independent investment bank and the leading senator in the governing coalition were arrested yesterday on suspicion of obstructing the country’s most sweeping corruption investigation ever. The detention of such prominent power brokers on orders from the Supreme Court raised the stakes dramatically in a bribery scandal that started with state-run oil company Petrobras and now threatens the heights of Brazilian banking and politics. The arrest of Andre Esteves, the billionaire CEO and controlling shareholder of BTG Pactual SA and Brazil’s most influential dealmaker, sent the bank’s listed shares into a dive that wiped out a fifth of its market value and raised red flags at the central bank. Brazil’s Congress also ground to a halt with the arrest of ruling Workers’ Party Senator Delcidio do Amaral, a veteran lawmaker who has run the economic affairs committee and who has been key to President Dilma Rousseff’s unpopular austerity program. Brazil’s currency fell as much as 2 percent as the scandal threatened both the country’s sixth-largest bank and the president’s sputtering efforts to pass a new budget and avoid another credit ratings downgrade to junk. Brazil’s central bank said it was monitoring the arrest of Esteves to see whether it would impact operations at BTG Pactual and trigger regulatory action. Banking analysts warned that BTG Pactual, the largest independent investment bank in Latin America, could struggle to navigate Brazil’s worst recession in a quarter century without its wunderkind founder at the helm. Clients withdrew funds equivalent to less than 1 percent of assets under management at BTG Pactual, which was less than had initially been expected by some, said a source with knowledge of the bank’s strategy. The six-year-old BTG Pactual, which manages about 230 billion reais ($61 billion), tapped less than 5 percent of its about 40 billion reais in cash reserves to cover those redemptions, said the source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. SHOCKWAVES IN CONGRESS The political gridlock that has obstructed economic policy this year is likely to worsen with the jailing of Amaral, one of about 50 Brazilian politicians under investigation for their alleged roles in a vast kickback scandal at the oil giant known as Petroleo Brasileiro SA. Amaral’s arrest was the first ever for a sitting senator in Brazil and it sent shockwaves through the capital. Congress suspended its sessions as senators met to discuss how to handle the arrest. After a heated debate in which some government supporters defended Amaral, the Senate voted 59-13 to uphold the top court’s decision to order his arrest. Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki said he authorized the arrest after prosecutors presented a taped conversation in which Amaral tried to bribe Petrobras’ former international director, Nestor Cervero, out of taking a plea bargain that could implicate the senator and other politicians. Prosecutors alleged that Amaral conspired to help Cervero flee authorities. They also said the senator offered a monthly stipend to the former executive’s family, financed by Esteves, who had obtained a copy of a plea bargain based on Cervero’s testimony. Cervero was received a 12-year sentence in August for corruption and money laundering in connection to bribes paid on two drillship contracts. Another defendant in the case testified that Cervero had passed bribe money to Amaral skimmed from Petrobras’ controversial 2006 purchase of a refinery in Pasadena, Texas. Amaral’s lawyer, Mauricio Silva Leite, dismissed the accusation that his client obstructed the Petrobras investigation, saying it was based on the word of a convict. He also criticized the Supreme Court for ignoring the senator’s immunity as an elected official. SHARES DIVE BTG Pactual confirmed the arrest of its chief executive and said the bank was available to cooperate with the investigation. Esteves’ lawyer, Antonio Carlos de Almeida Castro, told reporters that the banker “certainly” had not acted to obstruct the investigation. The bank’s listed units, a blend of shares in its investment banking and private equity divisions, tumbled as much as 39 percent to an all-time low on the Sao Paulo stock exchange before paring losses to 21 percent. Court representatives said Esteves had been arrested temporarily for five days, with a potential extension of five days. Amaral was arrested for an indefinite period. Esteves, 47, has drawn on powerful connections in politics and global finance to steer BTG Pactual through turbulent times as Brazil’s economy plunged into a sharp recession. BTG Pactual’s major deals with Petrobras have drawn the attention of investigators, including the bank’s stake in Sete Brasil Participacoes SA, a supplier of oil-drilling platforms that has been swept up in the probe. BTG Pactual also bought half of Petrobras’ Africa unit in 2013. Last quarter, credit to oil and gas and infrastructure companies, which are the most impacted industries in the widening graft probe, accounted for about 16 percent of BTG’s loan book. That is the largest exposure among Brazil’s listed traded banks, according to Thomson Reuters data. Brazil’s central bank said in a press statement that it was monitoring the arrest of Esteves, adding that BTG Pactual has solid liquidity indicators and continues to operate normally. The net worth of Esteves was last estimated at $2.2 billion by Forbes Magazine.


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