Following is Joan Yuille-Williams’ full statement:
As the former minister of community development, culture and gender affairs with the responsibility for the Financial Assistance Fund which is now the subject of salacious, misguided and uninformed comment, I wish to state the following fundamental facts for the general public’s information, even as I pursue my option for robust legal action to assert the truth unequivocally:
1. The Fund was never a “scholarship programme” but simply a ‘financial assistance window’ meant to be accessed by the neediest citizens who were in quest of further formal education, training or exposure which would both develop the recipient and redound to the greater benefit of the wider T&T society.
2. The Fund was legitimately established by a Cabinet decision. It was placed in the Ministry of Community Development, alongside a plethora of similar programmes which were operating to assist needy persons—from the youth to the elderly.
Systems were instituted for the proper functioning of the Fund, inclusive of an operating manual, various relevant forms and documents, and the appointment of a Committee to ensure due process.
3. The Committee’s mandate was: To receive and review applications; to recommend those to be approved or declined; to forward recommendations for the Permanent Secretary. There was no place for either the personal biases and prejudices of those in the decision-making chain, or intervention by or forcible influence from the Prime Minister, Minister, or any other official who may have been seeking political interests.
4. The Fund was not publicised as widely as perhaps it could or even should have been, but that was for a number of reasons:
• it was a new facility and flaws needed to be identified and rectified, including the quantum of funds available
• it was felt that since the assistance was meant for the needy and more
• vulnerable in the national society, the identities of persons applying and
• receiving assistance should be treated with sensitivity
• we also sought to protect the identities of Committee members so that they
• would not be exposed to direct approaches, unfair harassment, or undue
• pressures that can sometimes be attendant with that position
• the so-called low public profile of this Fund was consistent with the level
• of exposure given to the Ministry’s other ‘social development’ programmes.
5. There was never any attempt to ‘hide’ the Fund—both Prime Minister Manning and I spoke about it in the Budget Debate nearest its establishment; Members of Parliament representing all parties were thereby informed; NGOs were so alerted; and we counted on a naturally controlling flow via word-of-mouth as opposed to setting off a flood which would have been impossible to manage in the earliest stages. Further publicising was planned.
6. There were never any instances of applicants being declined on the basis of race, colour, creed, gender, or any of the indicators which would have amounted to unlawful, unconstitutional discrimination. The official Application Forms did not even carry a field requiring applicants to state their ethnic origin.
7. A statistical finding of one ethnic group of citizens showing a seven per cent presence among the successful candidates, may very well mean that all of the “seven per cent” who did apply were in fact approved. No figures have as yet been given for how many of which ethnic groups actually applied, were approved or declined, and on what grounds.
8. The sums approved varied simply because of differing costs required for differing educational institutions, or situations which were deemed relevant to the development of the applicant and the wider society.
9. The Prime Minister’s note to this Minister that an application should have been handled ‘quietly’ was not a directive to be secretive—it was simply in keeping with the Administration’s reach for discreetness.
10. The overall responsibility to transparency and accountability was considered to be met and ensured by virtue of the operational systems established, including recording-keeping, regular audits, and the democratic safeguard of such a wide cross-section of the general public being aware of the Fund.
11. If it is found by any person or entity (eg the Equal Opportunity Commission) that a less than perfect 100 per cent performance was maintained by the Ministry, that some documents appear to be not readily available, that some applicants may feel themselves to have been unfairly treated, it is expected that such findings would be regarded as being preliminary; and that both findings and individuals should be treated with the sacred judicial process of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ rather than by the irresponsible waving of documents, irrational threatening of jail terms, or the irascible conduct of those entrusted with the welfare of all citizens.
While I proceed with the legal recourse best suited to establishing objective truth and protecting people’s integrity, I remain loathe at this stage to disclose much more of the details—inclusive of actual persons and cases who can testify to the rigourous fairness of the processes and to the widespread success of the programme in so far as it was beneficial to them and the wider community.
May I warn however, that such a stance of judiciousness should not be taken as one of fear, or a reticence about the merits of matters connected to this Fund. As soon as the time is considered propitious, I shall be most happy to be even more public. And I will do so with confidence in the honesty of the details and with all the vigour of my personal and professional integrity.