Government’s method of awarding the recently announced law school scholarship is under question over what is being described as a lack of transparency.
In an invited comment, Attorney- at –law, Sanjeev Datadin noted that the fact that the scholarships are being offered at a period when elections are due is highly suspicious.
According to the lawyer, the guidelines presented by the Government for applicants to be shortlisted are also questionable. “It is quite broad-based, opaque and therefore lacks transparency as who exactly is eligible for these scholarships.”
Datadin said too, that given the Ministry of Legal Affairs seems to have a direct involvement in the process is also worrying.
Just last week, Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams met with students attached to the Trinidad-based Hugh Wooding Law School (HWLS) to discuss issues of eligibility. The meeting was at the behest of students attached to HWLS.
However, Datadin said the matter raises eyebrows since scholarship offered via the State are usually handled by the Ministry of Public Service.
According to the lawyer, the subject Minister’s direct involvement in the process could mean that he is somehow usurping the authority of the Public Service Ministry.
“It is highly suspicious, so I fear what will happen in the interview process. Will the candidates be selected by political affiliation rather than their actual qualifications?”
The Attorney stressed that no political actors are directly involved in the process.
Datadin said, “That is the work of the Ministry of Public Service, the selection and interviews falls directly under their portfolio, hence eliminating any question of hand picking, prejudice and favoritism.”
“I think making specific terms and conditions of the scholarship being offered public will also help a great deal.”
The Attorney said that nonetheless he is happy that the students will benefit from some form of financial assistance from the State.
“I believe it will bring relieve to the law students and alleviate some of the financial burdens they face. It is just a matter of how the Government intends to select its candidates.”
The Attorney believes that the Government has other options in helping the students minimize expenses to acquire their LEC via the Trinidad-based law school.
“The [previous] Government had stopped paying economic contributions to the institution for whatever reason but that has resulted in law students studying via the Regional campuses incurring a higher cost to do so. I believe if the Government renews that commitment to pay those contributions it will also help to greatly ease the students.
Adding his voice to the issue of the scholarship, former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall agreed that there should be more transparency surrounding the selection.
“Of course, there is need for more specifics and clarity on how the candidates will be selected.”
Added to that, Nandlall said that while offering scholarship to law students is a laudable and noteworthy venture, the Government must consider other areas of expertise that scholarships are needed.
The Attorney General noted that Government should be more careful in examining whether the discipline of law is an area which requires more expertise than the others.
According to Nandlall, with Guyana’s oil future there are other types of expertise which will require capacity building.
“I am not ruling out help for law students. I just think that Government should examine what other types of capacity is needed in the view of Guyana’s future.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Basil Williams dismissed the notion that the scholarships being offered to law students have anything to do with the coming elections. He said that Government has been committed to helping the law students since their assumption of office.
Williams had pointed out that at the beginning of his tenure as Attorney General; a three-year agreement was signed between the Government and the law school in Trinidad to facilitate the entry of Guyanese students into the HWLS programme.
He said that the agreement is expected to expire this year.
Last weekend, the Ministry of the Presidency, Department of Public Service announced via advertisements in the daily newspapers that a limited number of law students will now be offered scholarships at the HWLS in Trinidad and Tobago for the 2019/2020 academic year.
The ad announced that the scholarship will be for students to attain the Legal Education Certificate (LEC).
The offer is being made to any person who is the holder of the Bachelor of Laws Degree with a minimum Grade point Average (GPA) of 3.3 and present students at the HWLS with passes for the first year of studies of at least three courses passed with a grade A.
Moreover, these individuals applying must have obtained a Bachelor of Laws Degree within the last five years and they must be 35 years old or under. Also the student must possess an offer of acceptance from the Hugh Wooding Law School for the 2019/2020 academic year.
According to the advertisement, the closing date for applications is August 30, 2019.