After massive public outcry over revelations of alleged widespread corruption in Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of Sport's LifeSport programme, Minister of Sport Anil Roberts has resigned from his ministerial post. His resignation letter expressed a “desire” to resign both as minister and as parliamentary representative for the country's D'Abadie/O'Meara constituency “based on the inexplicable public furore that continued unabated based on misinformation in the public domain.”
The country's beleaguered prime minister confirmed the news yesterday at the weekly post-Cabinet press conference, and appointed Dr. Rupert Griffith, the current minister of science and technology, as interim minister of sport.
Bloggers have already dubbed the performance surrounding Roberts’ resignation the “tears of a clown” — and one well-respected member of the country's civil society, who preferred to remain anonymous, noted that Roberts constitutionally cannot write to the prime minister to resign from his parliamentary seat. This has to be done via the speaker of the House of Representatives — “so based on that alone, I don't think he intends to go anywhere,” the source said.
Roberts, a former swimming coach, television personality and radio talk show host, had come under pressure after a probe into the workings of the LifeSport programme, which was intended to give young people in disadvantaged communities access to sporting activities as an alternative to getting involved in crime, revealed gross mismanagement and wastage. Deputy Police Commissioner Glenn Hackett has announced further investigations into the programme for possible criminal activity. Roberts had insisted that since he had not been directly implicated in any wrongdoing, he should not be held responsible — an argument that Wired868 discounted last week by equating it with “a motorist pleading innocent to a fatal accident because he closed his eyes just before impact.”
In a country groaning under the weight of corruption and the social and economic fallout that naturally ensues, many view Roberts’ stepping down as an encouraging sign that the voice of the people still has power. Protesters, calling for Roberts’ dismissal, gathered in front of of the Ministry of Sport with their placards. There was also an online petition calling on the prime minister to fire him that received over 3,000 signatures.
The irony of the way in which the situation has played out has not been lost on anyone familiar with Trinidad and Tobago's politics. Anil Roberts was a controversial, polarising figure because of his brash, loquacious persona and his caustic criticisms of the previous government — his apparent double standard therefore drew strong reactions on social media. Diaspora blogger Jumbie's Watch offered a line-by-line critique of Roberts’ resignation letter, completely dismissing the notion that the minister bore no blame for the outcome of the LifeSport programme:
The responsibility, not to mention the idea, was yours. Tell me, where and how did you (and your Cabinet colleagues) thought it was a good idea to pay criminals to play? What was the reasoning behind that? In no other country in the world, even in those riddled with corruption and despotic rulers, was such an idea ever promulgated. I mean Anil, you took ‘banana republic’ to a whole new level, and it wasn't pointing up, if you know what I mean.
On Twitter, reactions to Roberts’ resignation were swift, as anticipation had been building for at least a week:
Oh good! Anil Roberts has finally resigned. Best bit of news I've heard all day.
— Phoebe (@feebalinaa) July 31, 2014
Anil Roberts complained for years that no Govt built any Olympic size 50m swimming pool. He got in a position to correct that and failed
— Darren L. D (@fudgie8) July 31, 2014
In a reflection of diminishing public faith in the country's law enforcement and judicial systems, a few Twitter users were cynical about whether the investigation would lead anywhere:
why did Anil Roberts even bother to resign? It's not like if someone is going to get jailed, or we're going to get the money back.
— Republic of Anthony (@BissieSmalls) July 31, 2014
So yes, in all this hullabaloo, I wonder if the investigation into the #LifeSport programme would survive into next week.
— Joshua Ramirez W (@jramirezw1) July 31, 2014
SpeakOut T&T, an activist group, hoped that Roberts’ resignation does not mask the bigger and even more pressing issues surrounding the LifeSport programme:
It all sounds heroic doesn't it? Fit enough for a Campaign Trail Advertisement that shows how the PM acted relentlessly in the public's interest and stood up like no other Prime Minister has ever done before ‘as head of cabinet’ and demanded that those crazy bald-heads (NOT ANIL) were held responsible and brought to justice. Come'on Madam Prime Minister… Anyone with an iota of sense could see through this public relations gimmickry currently being thrown in our faces by your Government.