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PM intervenes in Hindu/Muslim funding row

Sunday, December 4, 2011
Inshan Ishmael

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was forced to intervene in a brewing war between Muslim and Hindu organisations over the disparity of Government funding. In a November 16 e-mail, sent by Muslim activist Inshan Ishmael to Persad-Bissessar, concerns were raised about the inequity in Government’s disbursement to both faiths. Ishmael stated that the country was already divided by race, and religion was now becoming an issue. Ishmael on Friday blamed Multiculturalism Minister Winston Peters for the unequal treatment. Ishmael said Persad-Bissessar admitted to him that all groups should be treated fairly, promising that next year, the Muslim community will get an equal share of the pie.

To celebrate Eid, the Muslim community which comprises six per cent of the population, Ishmael said, received only $433,000. The Hindus which constitute 24 per cent of the population collected more than $3 million, Inshan claimed. The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMA) was handed $1.9 million, while the National Council of Indian Culture got $1 million for Divali Nagar, with another organisation collecting $150,000, Ishmael said. “I would agree that the playing field was definitely not levelled. It shows there was a disparity and again, the disparity was on the lap of Minister of Multiculturalism 100 per cent. On Gypsy’s part it was really poor. The minister needs to get in touch with the Hindu and Muslim communities.”

Ishmael said Peters was supposed to look at Government’s subventions: “That is when the Prime Minister called Gypsy and questioned why it is X, Y and Z? And then they realised that it was in hindsight that the funding was not distributed due to late submissions or it did not reach the minister’s desk.” However, he admitted that the matter was now settled since Government will soon be handing over to them a two-acre piece of land in Bamboo Settlement on which a mosque will be built. The land, approved by Cabinet Ishmael said, is worth between $6 to 8 million. He said though they did not receive sufficient funding for Eid, the value of land more than compensated.

TML: We dipped in our own pockets
President of the Trinidad Muslim League (TML) Nasser Mustapha admitted that his organisation had requested $100,000 to celebrate Eid, which they did not receive. “It’s not like we were depending on it. Funding would have enhanced the celebrations, but it no way affected us in terms of scaling down what we had planned.” Next year, Mustapha said, they would not ask the Government for money. “My style is not to ask. If I am given something I would utilise it.”

Moulana Nasir: $7,000 still outstanding
Moulana Saddiq Nasir of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah said they had requested funding for an annual singing competition among Guyana, T&T and Suriname. Nasir said they had to cover the airfare to Guyana, where the competition was held, which amounted to more than $60,000. All they received from the Government was $10,000 to cover their expenses.

Ali: Funding not a God-given right
President of the Anjuman Sunnat-ul-Jamaat (ASJA) Yacoob Ali said he did not view Government funding as a God-given right. Ali could not say how much they had asked for as opposed to what was given for Eid. Ali said ASJA makes do with what they have. “We got a little bit. Of course we would have liked a little more.”

Sat declines comment
In response to the alleged rumblings between both religious bodies, secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Satnarayan Maharaj said: “Why don’t you speak to them? (Muslims). They have written to the Prime Minister, go talk to the Prime Minister and the Muslim community. I have nothing to say.”

Disbursement of funds being addressed
Also commenting on the issue, interim president of the Association of Traditional Religions Pundit Ravi Ji said the issue of the disbursement of funding was currently being reviewed. “What I could say is that as a practicing person in culture I know there has always been discrimination in terms of cultures in T&T. But I do not know to what extent that continues. The Government has been trying to adjust the way funding has been distributed. I think it is too early to judge if discrimination exists with the disbursement of funding because it is only one cycle of a year that has passed.” Messages left on Peters’ cellphone yesterday were not returned.


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