(Trinidad Express) Jail eh nice!
Days after former prime minister Patrick Manning dared the Government to lock him up, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar reminded him of his own words “jail eh nice”, while she provided proof that the former Manning-led administration practised discrimination through a secret scholarship fund.
Persad-Bissessar was armed with a July 2011 report from the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) which is headed by Prof John Le Guerre.
The report disclosed that there was racial discrimination in the award of scholarships under the People’s National Movement government with only seven per cent of persons of East Indian descent receiving funding while the majority 93 per cent were awarded to non-Indo Trinidadians.
She further stated that Manning was involved in the scam, penning private notes to former government minister Joan Yuille-Williams to “handle this quietly” with respect to awarding scholarships to persons whom he personally recommended, including the daughter of the former head of SAUTT, Brigadier Peter Joseph.
“You violated the rule of law, so you have absolutely no moral authority to come here and pontificate in this Parliament, you must first atone for your sins. Not only must you atone, those of you who were involved in that scam, in that fraud, in that breach of the Constitution, they will go to jail. As the member for San Fernando East always say, jail eh nice,” said Persad-Bissessar.
“The investigation by the EOC did in fact reveal that there was shameless, rampant discrimination in the award of secret scholarships by the former government,” said Persad-Bissessar. The Prime Minister said she has advised the Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to forward the EOC’s report to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police and she further instructed that a forensic audit be conducted into the scholarship programme.
In 2009, when it was revealed that there was a secret scholarship fund in the Ministry of Community Development, now Transport Minister Devant Maharaj had submitted a complaint to the EOC citing discrimination.
The EOC, in its report, found that there was discrimination and that the scholarship programme where $45 million of taxpayers’ money was expended was used by Manning and other PNM members to selectively award scholarships.
Referring to the report, Persad-Bissessar pointed out that more than half of those who applied for scholarships came from the constituencies of San Fernando, Port of Spain North/St Ann’s West, Diego Martin West, Arima and Laventille East/Morvant.
She pointed out that 11 per cent of the applicants were from Diego Martin West, asking who would have made the recommendation.
“You barking up the wrong tree,” said Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, MP for Diego Martin West.
“Shame!” shouted members of the Government benches as Government Minister Anil Roberts quipped, “Not even a dougla, boy?”
Persad-Bissessar said the criteria that were set out by the Community Development Ministry stated that the applicants must provide evidence of financial need. She then waved a copy of a letter requesting financial assistance for a student to the tune of TT$25,600, which was signed by Manning himself. The letter stated that the student did not qualify as needy but assistance was recommended.
Furthermore, Persad-Bissessar indicated that the EOC report stated there were major breaches on the ministry’s part. She said there were no records of the selection committee meetings and the EOC even cast doubt that a committee even existed.
The EOC, said Persad-Bissessar, found that several claims of financial need and subsequent award of financial assistance were “suspicious” after a review of the application for the years 2002-2007.
“The investigators found that there was no completed application forms for almost half of the persons (47 per cent) who received scholarships under this secret scheme. Of those that filled out the form, 36 had no address and were therefore incomplete,” Persad-Bissessar read from the report.
She added that the EOC discovered that more than half of the awards for local study exceeded the TT$25,000 limit allegedly set by the ministry. And some 94 per cent of the awards for the foreign programmes exceeded the foreign limit.
“In other words, there was absolutely no attempt to control the value of awards given,” said Persad-Bissessar as she described the programme as “a PNM slush fund”.
She added that EOC investigators, after inspecting the vote books, found that the fund was used to pay every imaginable expense from scholarships grants to the following: community wardens, salaries, catering services, gardening services, rental of retained properties, rental of sound equipment, rental of stages, printing fees, publication fees and communication fees (TSTT, et cetera).
Unlike Government Assisted Tertiary Education programme, Persad-Bissessar pointed out that under this scholarship programme no agreements were signed.