UNC activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj is threatening to take legal action against the Ministry of Social Development over what appears, to him, to be a“racial and gender imbalance” in the selection of beneficiaries for its Special Achievers’ Grant (SAG).
In a pre-action protocol letter, Maharaj claims recent disclosures by the ministry to a freedom of information request on the grant showed that 70 per cent of the SAG were of African descent while a mere 30 per cent were of Indian descent.
“The level of imbalance and bias towards one specific racial origin in the SAG programme is therefore distinct. “
He gave the ministry 30 days to publish information relating to the grant, failing which, he said, he will instruct his attorneys to file a claim for judicial review and constitutional redress to force the disclosures.
“It is clear that this SAG is being operated in an unfair, discriminatory and arbitrary manner,” attorney Jochelle Lootawan, of Freedom Law Chambers, said in the letter to the ministry’s permanent secretary.
She said the fund was a programme administered by the State with public funds. Lootawan said to ensure transparency, fairness and quality it was incumbent on the ministry to publish on its website, the existence of the grant; the procedure for applying; the policy and criteria; the amount of the grant that a beneficiary can receive; the timeframe from submission to a final decision; and reasons for refusing an application. It also said the information should also include the advice that citizens can seek the intervention of the Ombudsman or apply for judicial review if they feel their application was unfairly denied.
The attorney said Maharaj only became aware of the grant after recent outcries against the treatment of former boxing champ, Claude Noel.
She also said from his interactions with citizens, it appeared they did not know the grant existed. Alleging discrimination in the award of the SAG, Lootawan said that based on the information already provided by the ministry, there was no explanation for why some recipients received larger sums than others.
“It would appear that Government agencies are allergic to compiling data based on gender, geography, race and religion.
“…How on earth is a citizen to prove discrimination in a State where the relevant authority does not keep such statistics to avoid having evidence that could substantiate such claims?”
Lootawan said there is no information on the grant publicly available.
“Our client is a community leader and public interest litigant. Many special achievers from the
Indian community who have fallen on hard times have come to him to seek assistance and were
unaware of the existence of this SAG programme.
“Having become aware of it, he is concerned that public funds in this SAG programme are being disbursed in a secretive and arbitrary manner at the political whim fancied and dictate of the ruling party in Government.”
She added that “It is a well-known and unfortunate fact that our politics are rooted in ethnic division and suspicion” so it was important for a State agency to adopt strong measures to protect and safeguard the constitutional rights of citizens to equality of treatment from a public authority.