Scholarship winner gets court’s nod to challenge deferral denial

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Mark Laloo. –

AN open scholarship winner, enrolled at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), pursing post-graduate studies, has received the court’s permission to challenge a decision of the Education Ministry to deny his request for a deferral to begin his obligatory service.

Mark Laloo has received the permission of Justice Kevin Ramcharan to pursue his lawsuit which seeks to quash the ministry’s refusal to deny his application for a three-year deferral and an order to consider his application afresh so he could complete his studies in advanced veterinary practice.

Laloo wants a deferral effective from January 4, 2021 to December 29, 2023, and says he has every intention to return to Trinidad and Tobago to contribute to the veterinary profession.

“There are very few specialist veterinarians in the country and no access to advanced imaging modalities like MRI and CT for animals.

“While the vets in Trinidad do an amazing job with the limited facilities they may have access to, there is a hunger from vets for more access to specialists and advanced facilities. Animal owners no longer see their pets as ‘guard dogs’ or ‘just an animal they feed’, but rather as integral members of the family unit,” his lawsuit says.

It added, “With globalisation and a plethora of documentaries on National Geographic and Discovery about veterinary care in the US and UK, people are now expecting their pets to have access to the same level of health care humans have access to, including 24-hour hospitalisation with constant supervision and intensive care, CT/MRI scanning, neurosurgery, laparoscopy and chemotherapy.

“It was is my hope that the opportunity to continue to advance my clinical and practical training would be of benefit to the pets and pet owners of TT and to the wider Caribbean.

“I have a dream to advance the health and welfare of animals in my home country to the level I have witnessed in the United States and United Kingdom.

“Animal health is inextricably linked to human health in the form of zoonotic diseases and mental well being. The knowledge and experience I would have gained over the next 3 years would pave the way for me to invest everything I know back into TT,” Laloo said.

This would be his fourth referral as he received three others in 2015 and 2018 for short-term employment at two veterinary hospitals in the UK after he graduated with distinction from the RCVS in 2015, and to pursue post-graduate training in small animal medicine at Nottingham Trent University.

He said the ministry also threatened to issue a notice of breach on his father, his guarantor when he accepted the scholarship, to recover the scholarship funds which could lead to the family losing their home.

Laloo’s lawsuit contends the decision by the ministry’s permanent secretary to refuse the referral was unlawful since the scholarship’s policy allowed for deferrals of up to six years for post-graduate studies and short-term employment for not more than two years. Laloo said he breached none of the policies so to deny him the referral when he was half way through his course was irrational.

His lawsuit also says his post-graduate studies is at no cost to the government and the post-graduate programme will allow him to specialize in a niche area much needed in the country.

It also said the policy was a guide which contained general statements and principles and would be wrong to apply the policy in a rigid and inflexible manner.

Laloo’s judicial review claim will come up for hearing on July 4. He is represented by attorneys Anand Ramlogan,SC, Kent Samlal, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Gary Ramkissoon, Natasha Bisram and Ganesh Saroop.

In 2020, an auditor general’s report said scholarship winners in breach of their agreement owed to the State some $26 million.

In 2017, the court ordered former scholarship winner Dr Ryan Wellington to repay over $3 million to the Government after he failed to return home for his obligatory service when he completed his studies at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.