Public Administration Minister: “Government Scholarship Programme fully transparent and virtually tamper-proof…”



17 September, 2014


Public Administration Minister: “Government Scholarship Programme fully transparent and virtually tamper-proof…”



Public Administration Minister, the Honourable Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, assures the nation at large that thanks to the right use of technology, the Government Scholarships Programme administered by her Ministry is so transparent and strict, not even she could tamper with the process.

Earlier this week in Parliament during her contribution to the current Budget Debate, the Public Administration Minister outlined several new measures undertaken by her Ministry to ensure transparency in the award of Government scholarships. She responded to concerns expressed by Opposition Member of Parliament for Port of Spain North/St Ann’s West Patricia Mc Intosh, about the processes and procedures surrounding the award of these scholarships.

“A lot has been said about scholarships during this debate, and Port of Spain North/ St Ann’s West constantly raises this issue about scholarships, asking who are these people getting scholarships, et cetera. I want to let her know, all she needs to do is visit, and she will see every name is published -- who was awarded a scholarship; the area of study being pursued; even the institution at which they are studying. Whenever we are dealing with taxpayers’ money, we must be totally accountable for public funds. I would have it no other way.”

Observing that previous administrations had a less than stellar record in this regard, the San Fernando West MP stressed over and over again that applications are made online and the entire process is transparent, open, and automated, with stringent monitoring and evaluation protocols, leaving little room for human interference.

“Many times Members of Parliament approach me, asking my help for someone who might have missed a scholarship deadline, and I have to tell them there is absolutely nothing I can do because the system will know if I went in to interfere. When you have an online, automated system, there is no meddling by anyone, not even a public officer, because the system will time-stamp the intervention.”

“Every one of those scholarships on offer has an evaluation framework, which is published on the website,” she says. “There are specific eligibility criteria. If you do not meet these; you cannot be considered. In fact,” the Minister adds, “you can actually go onto the website and score yourself according to these criteria, and learn quickly whether you can be shortlisted for an interview.”

The Minister notes: “All scholarships are now applied for via online to increase transparency. There is no paper-based application. Persons can also now log in online and track the progress of their scholarship application. That is one of the good things about the online system we have. It promotes transparency.”

Minister Seepersad-Bachan wants to see the transparency expanded even further to allow for the publishing of the final scores of students, so there is a public record of their performance in the interview process, and their academic achievements. The legal implications of such a move are under review, at present.

She also reports an increased number of scholarships available to nationals, with 1,935 scholarships awarded over the last 3 years, and some $245 Million spent to finance scholarship opportunities over the last fiscal year.

“This figure”, she said, “will be further increased to 2,089 scholarships for eligible applicants by the end of September 2014.”

The Minister also said that scholarships currently are awarded on the basis of national development needs. New scholarships have been offered in allied health, meteorology, pathology, cardiology, forensic sciences, oncology, and neurology.

“The Interim Human Resource Needs are up on the website,” the Minister points out. “If your area of study is not listed there on that list, even if you are a First Class Honours student, you will not get a scholarship. Your study area must be on the Interim Human Resource Needs List,” the Minister states.

Minister Seepersad-Bachan lamented on the frustration experienced by returning scholars because of the length of time it took previously to place them in an appropriate posting. She reports that since adopting the Resource Needs approach, and streamlining the process for placement, returning scholars have experienced less frustration when it comes to honouring their national service commitment.

“This allows for efficient servicing of vacancies in the public service and provides scholars with jobs that are in demand. Also, the placement policy has been revised to ensure that returning scholars are placed within three (3) months of returning to Trinidad and Tobago, and in areas related to their field of study.”

 The Ministry’s Professional Development Programme has been revised as well, to ensure that returning scholars maximise and accelerate their professional development with the acquisition of skillsets required for the workplace, such as career-path making, analytical skills, project management, and intercommunication. In this way, they are groomed for the new professional opportunities opening up at the Middle Management level in the Public Service.

During her contribution to the Budget Debate, the Minister also took the opportunity to report extensively on the various initiatives in which her ministry has been engaged in modernising the Public Service, and accelerating the Reform Agenda, most notably, the Gold to Diamond Initiative, which seeks to bring the Public Service and public servants into the 21st Century.

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