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Anil Roberts tendered his resignation as Sports Minister and hinted at the possibility of stepping down as an elected legislator, as the controversy over the multi-million dollar LifeSport programme took another twist on Thursday.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, who last week said that the programme had been riddled with discrepancies including procurement breaches and the involvement of some persons in criminal activities, said she had accepted the resignation of her embattled minister, the 14th Cabinet minister to either resign or be fired since the coalition People’s Partnership government came to power on May 24, 2010.
“I have decided to accept the offer of resignation as Minister of sports from Mr. Anil Roberts. Further I have advised his Excellency, the acting President of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Timothy Hamel-Smith that with effect from today, Thursday, July 31, 2014 in accordance with the provisions of Section 39 and 79 (1) of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago that the appointment of Anil Roberts as Minister of Sports be revoked,” she said, after the weekly Cabinet meeting in San Fernando, east of here.
In his letter of resignation, Roberts, a notable swimming coach, said that it was with “a heavy heart” he was informing the head of government of “my desire to resign as Minister of Sport and as Member of Parliament for D’Abadie/ O’meara with immediate effect, based on the inexplicable public furore that continued unabated based on misinformation in the public domain”.
Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, who is also the leader of the Congress of the People (COP), party to which Roberts belong, said “of course, if Mr. Roberts carries through with his intention to resign as Member of Parliament, while there is no possibility of a bye-election given the closeness of the next general election, the COP will work as speedily as is required to appoint a caretaker representative to ensure that the electors of that constituency are not without representation.
“We will also work to have a COP candidate contest the seat in the general election next year,” he said, adding that the COP “has always, and continues to stand by the position that all holders of public office must uphold the highest standards of ethical conduct.
“It does not matter which party one belongs to, holding public office demands adherence to the proper standards from every office holder.”, he added.
The party had earlier this year called for Roberts to step down after a video was aired on television here showing a man looking like the embattled former minister partying with marijuana and women in a hotel room.
Last weekend, Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said she had asked her Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to hand over copies of the audit of the controversial LifeSport programme to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police “to investigate, detain and prosecute those guilty to the fullest extent of the law”.
Police Service public information officer, Inspector Wayne Mystar, said he was aware that the report had been received by the acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams “and it is my information that he has handed over the report to the acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Glen Hackett…and he is in the process of appointing an investigator to invest that matter further.
“No time frame has been given as to when to (complete) the report, but rest assured that investigations will be done with transparency and expediency,” Mystar said.
Persad Bissessar told Parliament that the audit had revealed a number of discrepancies including procurement breaches; the involvement of some persons in criminal activities; fraud by suppliers; theft of equipment; breaches of the Proceeds of Crime Act and a deviation from the mandates of Cabinet.
In his letter of resignation, Roberts said that it was “quite unfortunate” that he was being forced into resigning because “I don’t want to have a negative impact upon my team, the People’s Partnership Government.
“Having done absolutely no wrong whatsoever, having not been mentioned not even once in a flawed Central Audit Report, in which the Auditors at the Ministry of Finance deviated from the Audit norms, by not allowing the relevant departments in question to respond to their findings and thus allowing to enter into the public domain an erroneous report.
“However, I fully accept that politics has a morality of its own and that the truth is not always sought.”
Roberts said that the “claims by so called scribes that the Westminster system dictates my resignation, couldn’t be further from the truth for the Westminster system posits that a Minister’s resignation is unwarranted when departments under his portfolio over which he exerts no direct control nor Ministerial authority operate ultra vires to good cooperate governance practices.
“That being so, I acknowledge the unjustified political pressure being placed upon your good self and your Government. Consequently, I offer you my resignation with immediate effect from all portfolios to allow your Government the freedom to serve the people without hindrance,” Roberts wrote, adding that he had been proud of his performance in government over the past four years.
Before he entered party politics, Roberts was already well known as the swimming coach of Olympic Bronze Medal winner George Bovell III, and as the host of popular television sports show, Spalk.
He insisted all week that he would not tender his resignation despite calls from various quarters for him to do so.
In an immediate response to the resignation, the main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) said that Roberts’s resignation is just the tip of the “wrongs” facing the government and renewed its call for an early general election.
PNM public relations officer, Faris Al Rawi, speaking on radio here, said that there were other government programmes that needed to be audited because of allegations of corruption.
Former National Security Minister Austin Jack Warner, who wrote Prime Minister Persad Bissessar, calling on her to dismiss Roberts, had described the LifeSport programme as a “cess pool of corruption”