Maharaj yesterday maintained that the Maha Sabha had no intention of supporting the idea.“We like our freedom,” he said.
Maharaj struck a controversial note during Citadel Limited’s A Case For National Compulsory Service at City Hall in Port-of-Spain on Monday when he publicly condemned the much-touted initiative.
Citadel’s executive chairman Louis Lee Sing said the programme targeted at-risk young males between the ages of 15 and 25 from along the East/West Corridor and districts between Point Fortin and La Brea. He made it clear that the programme was not about military service.
Maharaj recalled that the Maha Sabha had shot down the idea when it was first introduced by the National Alliance For Reconstruction after the 1986 general elections. Maharaj said the majority of the population should not pay the price if only two per cent of the population was commiting crime.
Maharaj said his organisation was already advocating a system of voluntary community service through an active Boys’ Scout movement and other activities in mosques and mandirs.
Retired head of the public service Reginald Dumas felt the programme should be replaced by a system of community service.
“Community service should be introduced into the curriculum of secondary schools and universities where students would be graded through a point system for doing work at old age homes and other activities,” he said.
Such a project, Dumas reasoned, would facilitate greater social and ethnic integration.
Head of the Network of Non-Governmental Organisations Hazel Brown was adamant that national compulsory service would not work.
“I don’t support it at all...I don’t feel that this is required at this time,” she said. Brown instead suggested that genuine attempts be made at providing child care solutions for young children, particularly under the age of three.
Retired Deputy Police Commissioner Winston Cooper also insisted that the idea would not be successful, given the ethnic composition of the country.
“It cannot work in Trinidad,” he stressed.
Cooper said, however, that the idea had merit in terms of addressing the problems affecting young African males in the society.