Sports Minister Dr Rupert Griffith came under fire during yesterday’s sitting of the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament where he was unable to provide answers to questions from the opposition bench about perceived ad hoc management practices at the ministry, the Trinidad Guardian reports today.
Sean Nero writes that concerns ranging from spikes in recurrent expenditure, varying hiring practices for contracts workers, the structure, budget and application process for the Elite Athlete Assistance Programme and the failure of the Boxing Board of Control to submit audited statements for more than two years, were among the issues the minister and his team were called on to clarify.
Dr Griffith, assigned the sport portfolio by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar following the resignation of embattled sport minister Anil Roberts back in July, found himself in a quandary and was unable to provide answers to almost all questions the opposition fielded.
Chairman of the Committee House speaker Wade Mark advised the minister of his right to defer answers to any and all questions to which he was not appraised.
Opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley said on examining the expenditure patterns of the ministry, he observed that in 2014 the ministry was responsible for spending $682 million. That, he said, drew his attention to recurrent expenditure which seemed to have exploded in this ministry.
“The documents available to this Parliament in front of us here, shows that the current expenditure in the Ministry of Sports as recently as 2011 was just over $28 million. So it would means that in a deficit budgets, we have somehow contrived to move the current expenditure from this ministry to one that is quite substantial. What was the reason for explosion in expenditure to $682 million in 2014, as per the estimates? What is going to be cut out of the ministry’s programme with respect to the estimates for 2015?” Rowley asked.
He added, “What I have discovered by examining all the numbers, we have in front of us, if we go the way we have gone, it is possible that we would not get the answers that we are looking for with respect to what happened in 2014. Because there have been significant omissions in this ministry.
Dr Griffith said revised estimates for 2014, was $21 million and the estimate for 2015 was lowered to $19.5 million.
Asked by Dr Rowley the reason for that, Dr Griffith said the removal of the now controversial Life Sport programme which was under investigation as well as vacancies at the ministry led to the downward revision of the estimates.
Quoting figures produced by the Finance Minister, Dr Rowley said confirmed expenditure at the end of 2013 was $9.7 million. He said there was an appropriation for $12.8 million for 2014. This he said amounted to an estimated $3 million increase.
The Opposition Leader then asked for a list of the components of the ministry’s expenditure which totalled $52.9 million in 2014 and a similar amount to be spent in the coming fiscal calendar.
In reply, Dr Griffith said the figure represented the ministry’s lease of stadia and rental of buildings for the accommodation of staff and services.
Diego Martin North East MP Colm Imbert raised the issue of terms and conditions for community sporting officers and said this category of employees spent most of their time at home because contracts were not renewed in a timely manner.
Dr Griffith challenged him.
Imbert said, “It is a fact!
Dr Griffith asked, “Do you have evidence of this?”
Imbert said, “Yes! I can speak for myself, in my area. The sport officer was at home for months and received no allocation for sporting activities either for 2014.”
The sport minister accused Imbert of engaging in speculation, but the opposition member stood his ground.
Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner sought information on the allocation for the boxing board in 2014. The sport minister, at first, said the national sporting organisation received funds that totalled $2 million under the revised estimates for 2014.
Pressed further, he asked that he be allowed to provide a response, in writing, at a later date.
But opposition MPs Alicia Hospedales and Terrance Deyalsingh did not let up in their probe on the matter. She asked when last the boxing board was audited, while Deyalsingh wanted to know if it produced audited statements for 2013/2014 before new allocations were released.
Dr Griffith said, “The Boxing Board like many similar organisation must submit a statement with their request (for funds). I am told that the boxing board did not submit a statement.”
Meanwhile, Donna Cox, MP for Laventille East/Morvant tackled the issues related to the vote from which funds for the Elite athlete programme came, allocations to national sporting organisation and what was Government’s policy position on the state sponsorship of Malabar FC, but no answers was immediately forthcoming.