(Trinidad Express) Former PNM ministers have asserted that they are not racists, nor did they selectively favour people to receive scholarships during their tenure.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in her budget contribution on Monday, released the findings of the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) into a complaint made by activist Devant Maharaj, now a Government Minister.
Maharaj had complained to the EOC that there was discrimination when the PNM awarded millions in scholarships to persons through a secret scholarship programme in the Community Development Ministry under former PNM minister Joan Yuille-Williams.
The EOC found that seven per cent of the scholarships went to East Indians and the rest to non-Indo-Trinidadians.
The report also stated that former PNM government members, including former prime minister Patrick Manning, personally made recommendations to Yuille-Williams, requesting that she “handle quietly” his requests for students to be financially assisted.
In the report, PNM members Hazel Manning, Anthony Roberts, Jerry Narace, Hedwige Bereaux, Satish Ramroop and Ken Valley—were among those named as having sent personal recommendations for persons to be awarded scholarships.
The Express contacted some of these PNM members yesterday and they all declared that their recommendations were made out of duty and not political favours or racial preference.
According to the report, based on a recommendation from former St Ann’s East MP Anthony Roberts, a man received US$6,860 to pursue a Pre-med programme at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania.
Roberts told the Express he cannot recall the person at all.
“I never favoured anyone, as a matter of fact I don’t recall that person at all. People would have come to me from time to time and I would have recommended more than one person,” said Roberts.
“I have absolutely nothing to regret, I was elected to represent the people in my constituency and I made recommendations,” he added.
Asked why was the programme not public, Roberts said: “It could not be secret, they (UNC) all knew about it, that is their modus operandi in terms of pulling the race card and they will continue to do that.”
The EOC report stated that former minister in the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Satish Ramroop, wrote a letter recommending that another person be awarded TT$13,000 to complete his Master’s in Marketing at the University of the West Indies.
Ramroop told the Express that it was unfortunate that only this person was highlighted in the report because he also assisted a number of persons of East Indian descent.
“At the time I was the youth officer male of the PNM and he was a member of the Youth League. He came to me for assistance and I wrote a letter of recommendation. Anybody came to me I helped, I took an oath of office to do so, there was no discrimination, I can’t say I did something wrong,” said Ramroop.
“There are persons who went away and are lawyers today. I don’t know how much, but Indians came to me as well, in my capacity as Minister and MP. I helped them all,” he said.
The EOC report stated further that a former police officer on study leave received US$7,000 to continue his LEC at the Eugene Dupuch Law School in the Bahamas. A recommendation was made by former La Brea MP Hedwige Bereaux.
Contacted yesterday, Bereaux said he too cannot recall this person.
“I gave recommendations to many persons, If I recommended him, I did it genuinely, I recommended to anybody who I thought may need help. I don’t know about this (name called), I can’t remember him at all,” he said.
Bereaux added that he has four children and none of them benefited from Government scholarships. “I paid for them out of my own money,” he said, noting that they all studied in London and the United States.
“I was young and poor and applied to the Government for assistance and I was frustrated. I told them never to apply or sign a contract with the Government,” he said.