Political promises should be made in a manner which does not create false expectations. Otherwise, instead of political capital, you can end up with a political catastrophe.
Last month, the government made a promise to offer a limited number of scholarships to students desiring of pursuing the Legal Examination Certificate (LEC) at the High Wooding Law School. The announcement was greeted with excitement from law students, who explained that it can cost as much as G$5M per year for students to finance their studies in Trinidad.
Many of the students were finding it difficult to afford this sum. Law students, therefore, were experiencing difficulties.
The announcement of scholarships was therefore greeted enthusiastically by the local law students. A delegation even went to meet the Minister of Legal Affairs to express their support for this policy.
The government never promised that all the law students would receive scholarships. But it also did not explain that by “limited” it meant four scholarships.
In another section of the media, it was reported that the government has offered scholarships to four law graduates of the University of Guyana. A great many applicants are going to be disappointed.
Each year, more than 30 Guyanese students usually make their way to Hugh Wooding. Twenty five of them are granted automatic entry in the law school. In that context, four scholarships really stretches the idea of what “limited” means. To say that would be disappointing would be an understatement. The law students would have been expecting a more generous number of scholarships.
It is not as if the government does not have the resources. These four scholarships are likely to cost the government a mere $20M per year. The consultant who developed the local content policy charged the government G$22M. The government could have done better.
But it may have been thinking that there are other fields which should benefit from scholarships. And that is why instead of having persons apply for this small number of scholarships, it should have simply stated that the four top students of the University of Guyana’s law programme would have received full scholarships at Hugh Wooding. In that way, it would not have created false expectations.
There are private individuals such as Glenn Lall, the publisher of this newspaper and Shell Mohammed, a businessman who without any fanfare have been helping to finance poor students to attend the Hugh Wooding Law School.
You never hear about these Good Samaritans until these students are admitted to the Bar and in their acceptance addresses they thank the persons who would have assisted them in financing their legal studies.
There are a number of law firms who can help finance the fees for students wishing to study for the LEC. And these firms should be encouraged to offer scholarships to students. When these students return, the legal profession benefits.
These firms need some encouragement. The government should provide the incentives for them to offer scholarships to law students.
The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) anticipates that it will collect almost G$ 46 more this year than last year. Now that is obscene sum of money. With that massive increase in revenue collection, the GRA would not be shortchanged were the government to grant a tax write-off for every law scholarship which legal firms grant.
Twenty students more students can therefore benefit from scholarships from legal firms. All it will take is a tax write off of the cost of these scholarships.
But there are two problems. Some of these legal firms are tight-fisted. Some of them know how to charge large fees for cases but their sense of corporate social responsibility is not as great.
The other problem is that governments like to be in charge. They want to be seen as the “good guys” and therefore they are not likely to encourage a policy which would make the private sector seen as being the “good guys’.
Best of luck goes out to the four successful candidates for those legal scholarships! For those who did not make the cut or were expecting far more scholarships, next time be careful about your expectations when dealing with governments.
Not so long ago, you were told that permission had been granted for Guyana to have its own law school. The permit apparently has not yet been located. And the Council of Legal Education has made it clear that it is only the Council which can establish law schools offering the LEC.
In the blink of an eye, the promised law school vanished. Yet, we are told that it is still possible.
All things are possible when dealing with politicians. Walk in the corner and do not get excited by promises.
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