The government has swiftly rejected claims of nepotism and favouritism with regards to the selection and awarding of government scholarships.
The Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Staff Training and Scholarship Committee (S.T.S.C.), Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, said the claims against himself, the Committee and the Secretary of the Scholarship Committee, Tagaloa Sharon Potoi, making rounds on blogs and social media, are unfounded.
He vehemently rejected them, even challenging the “faceless bloggers” making them to provide evidence.
“I present a challenge to the people who have accused the Secretary or anyone on the Committee,” he said. “I dare you publish any wrong doing by the Committee in the Samoa Observer, and pinpoint what year there was any wrongful action done during my tenure."
“If it was done 10 years ago, please be precise. Tell us if any of the students, if the student is a son or daughter of a Committee member, or a child of mine that has been sent to another country from this scholarship that did not meet the criteria.”
Tuilaepa issued the response during an interview with the Samoa Observer. He acknowledged that members of the public are talking about the allegations and that they only exist to tarnish the reputation of Committee members – including himself.
“I am the Chairman and others in the Committee include the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture and twelve other C.E.O’s,” Tuilaepa said.
“So if there was any wrongdoing going on in the Scholarship Committee, one of the 15 would have said anything a long time ago.
“If the allegations were accurate, they would’ve written to the newspaper and revealed their identity, but that hasn’t happened.”
Tuilaepa said they had 61 scholarships awardees for 2018.
“We have 12 students heading to Australia, 26 heading to New Zealand and 23 scholars are bound for Fiji.
“The requirements to be one of the awardees are quite competitive; you are required to have outstanding marks from term one to the end of the school year.
“Also the scholarships are funded by New Zealand and Australia and they have respective representatives who are also part of the selection process.
“Do you think they will be a part of any mishandling if the allegations were true, the Committee is all about transparency.”
Tuilaepa added that the children of Committee members are eligible for the awards – providing that they meet the requirements.
“Why would we place the future of our students in limbo because his or her parent sits on the Committee?
“It is something stupid and wrong to rob them of the opportunity simply because their parent sits on the Committee when the students are eligible.”
“The sole purpose of the unfounded allegations against the Scholarship Committee is to defame the government,” he said.
He said three of his eight children were unable to get scholarships because they did not meet the requirements.
Tuilaepa also commends parents whose children are eligible for the scholarships but opt to pay for their tuition.
“This affords the opportunity to another student who is next on the list, the opportunity to attend school in Fiji.
“We don’t pick any student, the selection is done through the merit system,” he said.
According to the S.T.S.C.’s website, it is a sub-committee of Cabinet that is mandated to decide on policy matters relating to scholarship opportunities, student welfare, bond issues, supporting priority sectors for capacity building and the utilization of funds from the Samoa Scholarship Scheme (S.S.S.).
It is also responsible for approving and monitoring the movement of nationals attending overseas meetings or trainings.
The Committee is chaired by the Prime Minister. The S.T.B. Division is the Secretariat for the S.T.S.C.
Tagaloa Sharon Potoi-Aiafi, the Secretary of S.T.S.C. Committee confirmed that Samoa has clear, robust and transparent processes in place that guide the selection of scholarship recipients.
“The Scholarship & Training Committee chaired by the Hon. Prime Minister and involving 12 other Ministries including the Minister of Education resolves on all scholarship related matters and stands guided by a set STSC Scholarship policy framework.
“The Scholarship Policy Guideline is complemented by the Tripartite Scholarship Harmonization Agreement which guides the arrangements for the management and administration of scholarships, agreed to by the three partner Governments Australia, NZ & Samoa.”
Tagaloa told the Samoa Observer that aside from awards offered by their traditional partners, Samoa has also capitalized on scholarship opportunities offered through W.H.O., Commonwealth, Chevening awards, and other ad hoc offers.
“This year we will be seeing additional changes in the scholarship application process.
“Last year (2017) New Zealand introduced the online application system for the Open Category application process which will be applied for the first time this year to all students at Foundation level.
“Australia is expected to also introduce the online application system next year for its scholarship processes commencing with the Open category awards followed by NUS Foundation.
“The Government of Samoa will continue to work collaboratively with the Governments of Australia and New Zealand to ensure the new online systems are robust, transparent and efficient and that it offers a smooth and transparent process for students and parents.
“More information on the online scholarships application processes will be provided to Foundation students sometime in February /March this year,” said Tagaloa.