Every rule was broken, every guideline ignored as the PNM employed public money reserved for needy students as their personal affirmative action slush fund. Of every 100 bursaries awarded by the Culture and Community Development Ministry it has been estimated seven went to Indo Trinis and 93 to Afro Trinis and minority ethnic groups. Though we do not know how the Equal Opportunities Commission which investigated the matter determined the ethnicity of the recipients, the Commission has concluded that there is a prima facie case of discrimination against East Indians by the PNM for the years 2003 to 2007. Apparently, the majority of the bursaries were given to residents of PNM constituencies and several went to party friends. In one instance, on the instructions of former prime minister Patrick Manning, a Grenadian was awarded TT taxpayers’ dollars secretly to study, and in many cases, scholarship recipients received more than specified in the guidelines.
The Prime Minister’s revelations are more than scandalous; they are stomach turning. Led by Mr Manning, the PNM used millions in taxpayers’ monies to deny Indo Trinis scholarships by overriding selection criteria (the Selection Committee apparently never met). Mr Manning endorsed the application of a Grenadian national for a secret $28,000 scholarship, dispatching a letter to former Culture and Community Development Minister Joan Yuille-Williams. “Hon Joan Yuille-Williams. Please handle this quietly,” Manning wrote on a letter dated November 14, 2004, according to the findings of the Equal Opportunities Commission investigation.
Mr Manning also recommended that the daughter of Brigadier Peter Joseph be given a scholarship even though she did not qualify. Joseph was then head of the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT). The EOC has recommended a forensic audit “by the appropriate authority,” as there is also evidence that the amount available to the fund was much greater than $45 million. In our view, the establishment of a fund using taxpayers monies to hand out scholarships to friends and foreigners and to promote one ethnic group is a noxious mixture of fraud and racism and we expect ministers involved to be held criminally liable for these funds.
A message has to be sent to our elected officials that it is illegal to use state and taxpayers money to promote private agendas, particularly when these are racist or political. The Culture and Community Development Ministry?s public bursary programme was not for any minister’s disposition and we salute the current Prime Minister’s conviction to the pursuit of justice in this disgraceful affair and depend on her commitment that the slush fund will be referred to the DPP and the Integrity Commission. We are certain that the private use of public funds and the circumvention of proper guidelines and criteria are a violation of the Integrity in Public Life Act and we look forward to the release of the results of the audit to be commissioned by the office of the Attorney General.
Race is always contained in the political discourse of Trinidad and Tobago and though ethnicity and politics are inseparable at election time, no party has the right to use public resources to quietly promote one group of people over another. Unemployment relief programmes such as URP and CEPEP, already discriminated on the basis of party affiliation in their award of contracts and jobs, but these usually go to the unemployed, whereas many of the “Ministry” scholarships were not awarded to deserving and needy children of Trinidad and Tobago, when the money employed in the fraud came from the pockets of all TT’s citizens, regardless of race.
The general thrust to educate non-Indo Trinis would indicate the former regime felt non Indo Trinis were falling behind. While we hesitate to rush to uneducated conclusions, and we do not wish to presently engage in discussions about the pros and cons of affirmative action programmes, we submit that any such programme, if it is necessary, must be conducted with maximum transparency. TT dismissed Nizam Mohammed for his comments about Indo Trinis in the police service, but Mr Mohammed had the courage to speak openly and honestly. Mr Manning and his government hypocritically ran their well-funded, insidious affirmative action scheme in the shadows.