Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs Minister Marlene McDonald will speak out in Parliament today on the controversial Financial Assistance Programme, which is administered by her ministry. This was revealed by Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives, Works and Transport Minister Colm Imbert, during yesterday's post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann's. Imbert's announcement was made during a response to a question on the issue by Public Administration Minister Kennedy Swaratsingh. Swaratsingh said the issue was "not discussed" at Cabinet. Imbert then advised that McDonald "has been mandated to make a statement in Parliament tomorrow on this matter. "So I suggest you hold your fire, have a little patience, wait until tomorrow," he added.
McDonald is expected to give the entire history of the programme. She is also expected to say that the initiative was conceived after Brian Lara's record-breaking 375 runs in a Test match against England in 1994 in Antigua. McDonald is expected to tell Parliament that there was a public outcry for such a financial assistance programme to assist nationals since that time. Her statement comes in the wake of public criticism of the programme by chairman of the Indo-Trinbago Equality Council Devant Maharaj. Maharaj secured details of the programme under the Freedom of Information Act. At least three journalists and members of the ruling People's National Movement (PNM) have been granted financial assistance under the programme.
Responding to questions on the matter during yesterday's post-Cabinet news conference, Swaratsingh said he wanted to explain for "the umpteenth time" that his ministry issued scholarships while the Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs Ministry issued bursaries. He said the scholarships were all advertised and based on merit. He said the application must be considered by a scholarship selection committee, which will then make recommendations to the Cabinet for consideration. Swaratsingh said financial assistance was granted to deserving nationals by the Community Development Ministry which, he said, was the appropriate place for such a programme. He stressed that there was a clear distinction between the two matters. "When the national community refers to scholarships, it is not what Community Development has been doing, they have been granting financial assistance to citizens of T&T of which all citizens can apply for," Swaratsingh said.