Devant: Integrity Commission must act on schols scandal

The findings of the EOC report were divulged by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar during the Budget debate last Monday.

In an interview yesterday, Maharaj said he provided the Integrity Commission with a copy of the EOC’s report and four specific cases for consideration including the case of an 11-year-old who got funding and Adanna Joseph, the daughter of Brigadier Peter Joseph.

According to him a number of legal challenges could arise from what happened with the scholarship fund such as breaches of the Integrity in Public Life Act and the Financial Exchequer Act.

Maharaj said the permanent secretary who worked with former Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs Minister Joan Yuille-Williams would have to give an account of the management of the programme.

Maharaj supports the recommendation of the EOC for a forensic audit. Former Minister of Community Development Marlene McDonald, who succeeded Yuille- Williams, defended herself against any impropriety during the Budget debate last week.

The period under review by the EOC was 2004 to 2007. McDonald took over at the ministry between 2007 and 2010. However, Maharaj said the operations of the scholarship programme between 2007 and 2010 should also be investigated.

“We did not see advertisements during that period also,” he said.

The EOC will host conciliation between Maharaj and the Community Development Ministry on Tuesday.

Maharaj did not know who would appear on behalf of the ministry but he would attend the session with his attorney. The community development and culture portfolios have been separated under the People’s Partnership Government, and there is now a Ministry of Community Development and Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism. Even so, the scholarship programme now falls under the Office of the Prime Minister.

Professor John Le Guerre yesterday said he had “no comment” on any matters before the EOC.

Yuille-Williams on Saturday defended the programme saying it did not provide scholarship but was a “financial assistance window”. She said there was no ethnic bias in disbursements and said any instruction from former Prime Minister Patrick Manning to handle certain requests quietly was in keeping with the then PNM administration’s “reach for discreetness”.

Maharaj, in a later statement issued in response to Yuille-Williams, said concern still remained over the lack of transparency of the process whether it was to award scholarships or to provide financial aid.

He questioned the violation of the rules governing the awards of financial help, and questioned whether the preferential treatment was shown to a political interest group by the PNM contrary to the Integrity in Public Life Act.

“I reject Ms William’s clever deflection of PM Manning’s instruction to “keep this quiet” as part of the protocol of the ministry. It seems as if this was the overriding motto for the disbursement of these funds. This was a blatant attempt to hide the facts from the glare of public scrutiny. The fact that the instruction was being issued in relation to the provision of assistance to a Grenadian student when it was supposed to apply to citizens of TnT alone exposes the emptiness of this justification,” stated Maharaj.

He listed financial help for the studies for several PNM politicians such as former senator Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing who received $500,000 during 2004 to 2006 to pursue a law degree in London, which she did not complete.He also referred to public relations officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, Paige De Leon, who was awarded a $173,640 grant for the pursuit of a Master’s degree, and also claimed PNM General Council member and former senator Joel Primus received “a grant of $15,000 for pursuit of a diploma in general management, as well as another $5,000 grant for pursuit of year one studies for a BSc in computing and information studies in 2004 at a St Augustine institution.

He said another former PNM senator Rain Newel-Lewis received an estimated $200,000 to pursue a Master’s degree in international business economics in London.

Her course of study was available locally.


"Devant: Integrity Commission must act on schols scandal"

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