By Prior Beharry
THE Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) is calling on the Government to retract its current policy in awarding scholarships and reinstitute the former system.
If this is not done, the largest Hindu organisation in the country is threatening to take the Government to court.
In a pre-action protocol letter sent to the Cabinet Secretariat Cheryl Hem-Lee on Tuesday, it stated that the programme was “systematically unfair and wreaks of maladministration.”
The SDMS stated that it was concerned since November last year, when the Government proposed the new system to reduced the number of scholarships from 400 to 100 with 500 new bursaries being introduced.
It stated that the previous method of awarding scholarships was transparent, predictable and objective.
The SDMS stated, “Conversely, and perhaps even more importantly, the students who did not obtain these scholarships were not left with a sense of injustice or ambiguity of rationale for not receiving similar scholarships.
“If dissatisfied, they could easily obtain the grades of their peers who received scholarships, conduct a simple comparison, and satisfy themselves as to the bona fides of the awards.
“There was no subjectivity in the process. The award of scholarships did not involve engaging the subjective discretion of Government appointees or functionaries; no individual predilections, preferences or biases tainted the award process.”
It noted that the “National Bursaries” announced in November “has the identical aim and intent of financing tertiary education for students completing Secondary School Education.”
It added, “This somewhat cataclysmic shift in assessing the eligibility of students for scholarship funding was done on the purported basis of allowing ‘greater equity in distribution of precious resources; which will focus the assistance where it is most required.’”
SDMS stated that the new policy proposed to reduce the number of scholarships to 100 and thereafter award the 500 bursaries based on the following weighted criteria:
- Intended course of study should be in alignment with priority areas of development (15%)
- Extracurricular activities/contribution to community/ country (15%)
- Purpose statement (10%)
- Academic performance (30%)
- Need as evidenced by Means Test (30%)
It stated that no guidance was given as to how a student could qualify for these scholarships now called bursaries.
The SDMS stated, “A striking and troubling feature of this recently revised policy when compared to the November 2020 policy is the deliberate removal and complete absence of academic performance as a criteria for assessing eligibility for tertiary assistance.
“In essence, whereas on the Cabinet’s first change to scholarship criteria is proposed to keep some measure of academic competition for these scholarships, its second and even more whimsical policy has now completely removed academic achievement as a method by which students would be assessed for academic assistance.”
The letter added, “Our client further takes issue with the purported undefined and unspecific policy for the strategic alignment of these bursaries with ‘meeting national priority.’
“Our client has not seen any published policy or document which can assist students in identifying what precisely are the national priorities of the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago in relation to courses of study and are therefore once more left in the dark as to what areas of study should be pursued in order to become eligible for the said bursaries.”
The SDMS is claiming that this scholarship/bursary scheme has stymied the CXC’s spirit for students at A’Levels and breaches students’ expectations of furthering their studies.
It added, “Therefore, students who would have been encouraged by the CXC initiative to pursue nontraditional areas of study, could now be denied tertiary level funding because of the narrow scope of this policy.”
The SDMS stated that there was ambiguity in Cabinet’s policy.
It stated, “The content of the Cabinet’s policy (consisting of two documents) is mired with ambiguity, internal inconsistency and patent absurdity.
“It is systematically unfair and wreaks of maladministration. Its abrupt introduction without forewarning constitutes an exercise of power in a harsh and oppressive manner which has frustrated the legitimate expectations of a cadre of young students that have ordered their lives in such a manner so as to obtain scholastic recognition and financial assistance for tertiary education.”
The letter stated that if legal action became necessary, the legal challenge was not intended to only benefit students of SDMS schools.
It stated, “Our client will take this step on behalf of all students and sectors of the national community that believe in a society predicated upon principles of meritocracy and transparency.
“Indeed, one of our client’s guiding philosophies is that ‘the rising tide lifts all boats’; as such, any action taken to improve the conditions of education for the students of our client will redound to the benefit of all students.”
The letter noted that the SDMS governed 175 temples, operates a radio and television station under the concession granted to Central Broadcasting Services Limited, manages a Hindu museum and publishes a bi-monthly magazine called Mukdar.
In addition the SDMS manages 43, primary and five secondary schools as well as 20 early childhood centres.
The SDMS has given the Cabinet until March 29 to respond.
The letter was sent by Rhea Khan, of Fortis Chambers, who said she is instructed by Stefan Ramkissoon, Kiel Taklalsingh and Dinesh Rambally. They are led by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC.