On the day when heated debate of a private motion filed by Imbert calling for Roberts’ censure saw Imbert thrown out of the Parliament, Roberts called on the population to wait on the outcome of ongoing audits before coming to conclusions on the programme.
The Sport Minister also knocked Imbert for characterising participants of the programme as criminal and for making links to the programme with the murder of Dana Seetahal SC, in the absence of findings of fact by law enforcement authorities.
Yesterday’s Parliament motion called for the censure of Roberts as line minister over Life Sport which has been subject to allegations of manipulation and for which Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar commissioned an audit. The motion called on the Parliament to, “censure the Minister of Sport for facilitating through the Life Sport Programme the funding of criminals and criminal enterprise”. In support of this call, it cited questions raised by Minister of National Security Gary Griffith and questions raised by the Auditor General in a Parliament report.
The motion stated that, “the Minister of National Security stated publicly in May 2014 that alleged gang leaders, and persons of interest to the police have been hired by the Ministry of Sport as coordinators of the Life Sport Programme.”
Imbert, in tabling his motion, referred to the murder of Curtis Gibson – now the subject of a police investigation.
Imbert at first said hours after MPs were engaged in the process of debating budget extension legislation, which included provisions to allocate more funds to Life Sport, the murderers were plotting to kill Curtis Gibson. He then said the plot actually would have occurred while the Parliament was in session, since the murder reportedly took place at about 1 am. The Diego Martin North/East MP said, “While we were here, criminals were plotting to kill this man Curtis Gibson. They burst into his house and shot him multiple times. Oh, I see it was at 1.15 am. While we had not even concluded the debate, while we were here doing that they killed this man.”
“Persons are being killed, a man was assassinated allegedly because of what is happening in this programme,” Imbert said. “I could become a statistic,” he said. “Like Mr Gibson or Dana Seetahal. Who knows when I go home and am entering the gate what will happen because I have dared to expose...this cancerous evil in Life Sport.” At another stage, Imbert said, “I don’t need any police protection.” Imbert said the Ministry of Sports’ permanent secretary Ashwin Creed was missing.
In reply, Roberts said Creed was not missing but was simply on vacation leave. He accused Imbert of seeking to provoke fear in the population.
“He has come here and attacked a permanent secretary in order to promote or institute fear in the country in order to pursue an agenda,” Roberts said. “He even brought in the murder of a citizen and he said that citizen was a Life Sport official.” Roberts said Gibson was not an official of the programme.
“They come here and bring motions and make accusations that are totally false...to distort the truth,” Roberts said. “I am very sad to be discussing Mr Gibson. This is a now a family that is grieving.” He said thousands of black men would benefit from Life Sport.
Imbert had earlier complained about Life Sport demonstrators outside Parliament threatening his egress. Roberts queried whether the demonstrators had really threatened Imbert’s egress into the Parliament. At 3.18 pm, Imbert, in cross-talk, protested he had spoken truth. He was warned by Speaker Wade Mark to allow the proceedings to continue in silence. Imbert then protested, “My life is threatened and I can’t talk?” The Speaker directed Imbert to leave the chamber until 5pm.
Imbert continued to protest. “I was threatened by hooligans from Life Sport today,” he did not give details.
After Imbert left the chamber, Roberts continued his presentation. To the media, Roberts said, “I hope you will give the same prominence to the truth. He (Gibson) had nothing to do with Life Sport.” He ended his reply by saying, “I respect the audits. I respect natural justice and the authorities who are investigating. Let the truth be told that Life Sport will help the people. Long live Life Sport.”
PNM MP exposes bogus invoices
Earlier, Imbert had quoted from a document which he said was a letter dated June 12, from an unnamed permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance to a permanent secretary of the Ministry of Sports. He said this letter queried a previous memorandum from the Ministry of Sports, dated May 8, 2013, and raised specific questions about differences in layout of invoices submitted; material differences in follow-up documents submitted; and the apparent lack of certification by a permanent secretary. These queries, Imbert said, related to a $77 million financing facility.
“When the Ministry of Finance catch them with the bogus invoices they just generated new invoices, Imbert said. He alleged a new scheme whereby fake companies were submitting inflated bids in tenders to divert contracts to certain companies. Imbert said he had done his own “audit” of two Life Sport centres (out of more than 100) and found 90 “ghosts” or persons missing. “I saw the ghosts myself or rather the place where the ghosts are supposed to be,” Imbert said. He did not state how he chose the centres in his sample or give details such as visiting times.
Imbert said a criminal had been hired to a key post in the Life Sport programme, even though he had a history of charges, including one for murder. He alleged the man was in charge of 250 “armed men” in “a militia” financed by the Government. Imbert did not state whether he had referred that matter to the police.
Imbert also repeated the queries raised by the Auditor General on the programme in a Parliament report. In the Report of the Auditor General on the Public Accounts of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for the Financial Year 2013, the Auditor General, Sharman Ottley, flags questions over invoices relating to mysterious companies and purported duplicated payments to programme participants across several areas and to the same single bank account.
“Three invoices for equal amounts totalling $259,350 for catering of meals in three different areas – Marabella, Morvant and Bagatelle – did not reflect any business address or telephone contact number for the supplier,” the Report states. Further, questions over the possibly duplication of payment of stipends are raised.
“From a review of one month’s payments under the Life Sport Programme, 59 participants who were seen to have been paid stipends totalling $88,500 for St Joseph, were also seen to have been paid $88,500 for Maloney,” the Report states. “In addition, a further amount of $76,500 was paid to 51 participants for Maloney. Also, payments to six participants in the Maraval area were made to the same bank account.” The Auditor General deems the programme “high risk” because it was not included under ministry controls. However, no findings of fact are made in relation to the programme.
Imbert said in 2012 the Auditor General queried how $180,000 spent on a funeral was placed under a specific head, but Roberts said those funds were in relation to a former Coast Guard member who served as a message therapist on several national teams and that the quantum was not subject to question but rather accounting head.
Imbert said the Government should have fired the Life Sport director Cornelius Price for contradicting, openly, the Minister of National Security’s questions in relation to Life Sport.
“Give him a box and let him clear his desk,” he said. “They continue to let him run it.”
During the debate of the motion, which was adjourned at 4 pm, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was seen chatting with Roberts and exchanging notes and documents. In a sign of what was to come, at the very start of Imbert’s presentation, she objected to Imbert’s claim that she was encouraging indiscipline, a claim Imbert later said he made because of a failure to fire Price.
“Mr Speaker, the member is imputing improper motives on the part of the Prime Minister, Persad-Bissessar said. “You can’t do it.”
The Speaker ruled, “I am sustaining that. Do not incorporate any other member of this house.” The motion of censure is meant to apply to the conduct of a specific official. Imbert assured he would not use his motion to attack other officials. See Page 14