“My Cabinet colleagues are really a good bunch of people based on what I have seen,” Sport Minister Brent Sancho told Wired868. “Every discussion that they have in Parliament and outside of Parliament is for the better of Trinidad and Tobago. The Prime Minister in particular has really impressed me…
“I’m truly impressed with her as a leader. I can’t speak highly enough of her.”
Just one month into the job, Sport Minister Brent Sancho sat down to discuss his vision for the ministry and respond to questions from Wired868. The following is the third and final instalment in our chat with the former Central FC chairman and 2006 World Cup defender:
Wired868: What are your realistic plans for your time as Sport Minister? What legacy will you like leave here?
Brent Sancho: I would like to start the ball rolling in the right direction in terms of policies and procedures and (sport bodies) seeing sport as a business. We have to stop naming facilities after past athletes and start selling name rights and kick start sport tourism as a bonafide money earner for this country.
My time here is short because (the general) election is around the corner. But to at least start the wheels turning will give me a huge joy and pride to know that I have left something like that in place.
Wired868: Do you see this as a short term stint or the start of a new career in politics?
Sancho: I haven’t seen it as anything because since I got here it has been all systems go. I thoroughly love being part of making decisions that impact on the legacy of sport. So if this is where I am meant to be, I will take this challenge on and I will take it further.
But, for now, my thinking is I have a deadline set in my mind and I want to get things done and I want to make sure and deliver for the people.
Wired868: Can you give me an idea of a few of those deadlines?
Sancho: I want to get the policies and procedures done before the month of March is out. I will like to get a symposium with corporate Trinidad and our sporting bodies, etc done. And obviously the opening of three facilities before August, which is the tennis, the cycling and the swimming facilities.
I’d also like to start work on the Ojoe Road facility in Sangre Grande and have some competitive game played on that ground before the start of their next season. And also the Bourg Mulatresse ground as well.
I also want to stimulate sport and sport tourism as a business and make that part of the policies of this government.
Wired868: And you plan to encourage sport tourism through hosting events and inviting teams?
Sancho: I want to encourage people from those markets to come in and see the facilities that we have, coupled with the tourism side with our beautiful beaches and tourist attractions, and sell it as a complete package. Trinidad and Tobago should be the number one spot for many sporting disciplines that are going to Rio 2016.
Wired868: As a young politician, how do you try to keep yourself grounded?
Sancho: Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evening, I make sure and find time for the Boongas sweat (an informal small goal football game in the Queen’s Park Savannah near Belmont). I predict as time goes on I will probably play less but I will still sweat whenever I can.
A lot of people are confused when they see me sweating with my partners in the savannah but that is the type of person I am. I think one of the biggest problems politicians have is that they are so removed from the general walk of life in Trinidad and Tobago that they lose that connection with the people. And that is not this government but governments and politicians in general… I run out of Parliament putting on my boots. (Laughs)
Wired868: What do you see as the value of that?
Sancho: I think the value of it is to stay in touch with (people from) all walks. When I go to sweat they don’t know me as a minister, they know me as Brent who grew up with them. So the conversations (there) will be very different from the ones I have in this office and they will say things to me based on how they know me to be for many, many years…
After a hard day at work, it really gets you back into the reality of what is happening in the country.
Wired868: Part of that reality is that the Government is taking a lot of flak over issues of corruption and transparency. How does that make you feel as the latest member of this administration?
Sancho: All Governments take flak on issues of transparency and so on. The public of Trinidad and Tobago has become more (politically) aware than years gone before but the most alarming thing for me has been what transpires at a non-governmental level. For me, that is more alarming and I am sure this ministry is not alone when it comes to that.
We need to take a serious look at how we do things in terms of management and procedures and making people accountable for taxpayers’ dollars with that mid-level management.
Wired868: How do you think it affects your image considering the way you were perceived before joining the Government?
Sancho: A lot of people have asked why I’ve gotten involved with this government. I had a conversation with the deceased Richard Braithwaite about a month before he died and he said you’re a man who always stands up on principle and wants change but you cannot get change from the outside. You have to get involved to make change.
I remembered that (when I was asked to be Sport Minister) and coupled with the fact that I am, as a former sportsman, really impressed with the direction that this Government plans to take sport. I am impressed with the vision they have for sport. And for me, coupled again with the fact that I want to serve and I want to make changes and I want to be a part of driving this country in another direction when it comes to sport, it was a no brainer for me.
Wired868: You’re talk about making change but what is your view on collective Cabinet responsibility?
Sancho: Well, I don’t think I’ve been briefed on that part yet. (Laughs) I’m aware of it. I think in my career I’ve always shown that I am willing and ready to stand up if I have to stand up. So for me as a person, my morality will stay intact and, if I need to speak out, I will speak out.
Wired868: So we can expect you to make decisions based on your conscience?
Sancho: My decisions will be based on (the good of) this country and the people of this country and the policies and procedures that govern this country. I would have to keep my ego in check because I am responsible for 1.8 million people. I have to be mindful of what they want.
Wired868: What is your view of your Cabinet colleagues?
Sancho: My Cabinet colleagues are really a good bunch of people based on what I have seen. Every discussion that they have in Parliament and outside of Parliament is for the betterment of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Prime Minister in particular has really impressed me. To see a woman with all the stigmas attached to her really take control of Cabinet meetings and the power and the presence that she brings is something that is really amazing. I’m truly impressed with her as a leader. I can’t speak highly enough of her.
Wired868: But how do you juxtapose your sentiments with the public revelations of corruption that plagued this Government for most of its five-year term?
Sancho: These problems are not different from what has transpired in previous governments. One of the things that has happened, obviously, is this a first-time government and you will make mistakes and things will happen. I think the bottom line for me is the Government has to stand up and say we have made mistakes. And the real question is how do you fix those mistakes and improve upon the mistakes that you have made.
If any government says they run a perfect five years that would be a lie. For me, it is about improving and seeing how to move the country forward. That is the key. And when you look at what this Government has done in terms of development and infrastructure, they have done a lot of work.
Of course there always going to be critics (but) I think a lot of the mistakes were the work of individuals…
Wired868: We have already seen Ministers caught out with serious issues like LifeSport and the alleged witness tampering issue. How can you be sure that there are not still more issues like that going on beneath the surface?
Sancho: I strongly believe the issues in general would have happened 10 or 15 years (ago). You can close your eyes and put your finger down on the reign of any party in any year and they would have had issues in that year. To me, the main thing is how you would correct those mistakes and not continue to make the same mistakes. It is about improving and moving things forward and that is what I’m looking at.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read the first in our three part instalment of our interview with Sport Minister Brent Sancho.