‘Mahapola is a people’s movement’ | Sunday Observer

‘Mahapola is a people’s movement’

22 April, 2018
Razik Zarook-Parakrama Bandara-Sujata Gamage
Razik Zarook-Parakrama Bandara-Sujata Gamage -

The Mahapola Scholarship program, introduced by the late Lalith Athulathmudali in 1981, granting 422 students a monthly allowance of Rs. 350 each has now awarded thousands of scholarships to undergraduates. Over 15,000 scholarships are granted per annum, at the rate of Rs. 5,500 per month. Lailth Athulathmudali from his hospital bed in 1987 said, “Mahapola is truly a people’s movement, it should continue to go forward even if I die.” The Director of the Mahapola Trust Fund since 2015, Parakrama Bandara spoke to the Sunday Observer about the Mahapola, its activities and future developments.

Bandara said, “The Mahapola Scholarship concept was started by the late Lalith Athulathmudali in 1981. Initially, he contributed his own money to give away 422 scholarships. He decided to collect more money in order to give more scholarships to the youth and started the Mahapola Trade Fair in 1984 (Education and Open Economy Fair) with the support of the Trade Ministry, Ports Ministry, EDB and the Shipping Corporation. He initiated the Mahapola Lottery as a source of income. After seven years it was stopped and the Development Lotteries Board was started, which contributed 50% to the Mahapola Trust. The President’s Fund also contributed to the Mahapola Trust Fund.”

“It is almost 35 years now since the Mahapola Scholarship scheme was started. Scholarships were granted by the Mahapola Trust Fund to other educational institutions too, such as, Technical Colleges, Law Colleges and the Open University. At present, the total university intake is 30,000. Of these students, we pay Mahapola to 15,000 students, based mainly on annual parental income. The annual income rate changed after Budget 2018, which is now Rs. 500,000 as opposed to the previous Rs. 300,000”.

False information

Bandara explained however that the number of Scholarships cannot be increased due to the income level. “Government servants’ salary was increased by Rs. 10,000, so that this group is not eligible for the Mahapola. We proposed to increase the income level to Rs. 500,000 during Budget 2018 through the Treasury and the Ministry of Higher Education. The 2017/2018 batch will be selected based on this new income level,” he said.

Explaining the qualifications needed to receive the Mahapola, he said, “If there is another university going child in a family, an extra Rs. 36,000 income is allowed. If there is a school going child, an additional amount of Rs.19, 000 income is allowed. If there are more than 3 children and the fourth has entered university, an income rate of more than Rs. 500,000 would be considered . The Mahapola Trust Fund decides the number of Scholarships to be awarded each year based on the number of university student intake. Last year 60% was awarded the Mahapola and the remaining 40% was given the Bursary.”

He said there were instances when the Mahapola was misused. “The Grama Niladhari provides us with false information, certifying false salary details. For some jobs such as brokers, businessmen and those earning big salaries abroad do not have proof of their income, so that these officers give false information which paves the way for students from low income families to lose the opportunity.

“I have some proposals for the welfare of the Mahapola which I am planning to present to the Cabinet and the Trustee. If the income level is low and the student is in merit level, such student should be awarded more the Rs. 5,000. If a student has a high income with a merit pass, he/she should be awarded a certificate with a souvenir. At the same time, some students with high parental income genuinely say they do not need the Mahapola,” he said.

“The activities of this Fund are performed by a Board of Trustees, and the Chairmanship of the Board is held by the Chief Justice. The Board of Trustees is represented by seven members, including the Chairman, the Minister-in-charge of the subject as ex-officio founder trustee, the Secretary of the relevant Ministry, Secretary of the Ministry of Higher Education, Secretary of the Education Ministry, and two trustees appointed by the Minister-in-charge. In addition, the President has appointed a Chief Account as an observer from the President’s office,” Bandara said.

Annual income

He said, the funds required for the founding of the Mahapola Fund was contributed by the personal donations of Athulathmudali, and the balance in the Fund in 2003 was Rs. 3.1 billion. Nat Wealth Corporation was established in 2003 for the management of the main fund. By October 2016, this Fund enhanced to Rs. 8 billion.

“The main Fund managed by Nat Wealth Corporation has been invested in Treasury bonds, Treasury bills and in fixed deposits at State Banks and an income of Rs.700 million is received annually through this. In addition, nearly Rs. 2 billion has been invested in fixed deposits at State Banks and Treasury bonds, directly, under the Mahapola Trust Fund, and an income of Rs. 175 million, approximately, is received annually. Accordingly, by October 2016, the entire Fund amounted to Rs. 10 billion, and the annual income was nearly Rs. 875 million,” Bandara added.

“Nat Wealth Securities Ltd. was established as a primary agent approved by the Central Bank under a preliminary investment of Rs. 300 million by the Mahapola Trust Fund, and its total value at present has increased to Rs. 1.1 billion. The income of this firm has also been credited to the Mahapola Trust Fund. Further, the Mahapola Trust Fund has founded the Development Lotteries Board under a 50% capital contribution, and approximately, Rs. 900 million is credited annually to the Mahapola Trust Fund as its share of profit. Accordingly, the total annual income of the Fund is nearly Rs. 1.7 billion,” he elaborated.

“The present Government has increased the value of monthly scholarship instalment up to Rs. 5,000 since May 2015, and an amount of Rs. 2,550 from the Mahapola Trust Fund and Rs. 2,450 from the General Treasury through the University Grants Commission are granted to each university for the said instalment”, Bandara said, and added that, “All the accounts of the Mahapola Scholarship Trust Fund are audited by the Government Auditor”.

“To avoid the monthly instalment payment delays, we are initiating to prepare a software where the entire system will be automated. The pilot project of this automation is given to the University of Kelaniya. The Dean of the Faculty of Engineering is handling this software development. A Biometric device will be initiated with the signatures of students. This automated device will recognize the student’s signature. We will be processing their payments thereafter according to their attendance. By the introduction of this system, the students need not sign to get their payments,” he explained.

Online lottery

“Currently we do not have a website for the Mahapola Trust Fund, and are in the process of creating one. All shareholders can get details and view their eligibility to apply for the Scholarship,” he said.

The other developments are that they will be introducing two different lotteries under the Mahapola as an income source. One will be an online lottery and the other the hard ticket lottery. “We will introduce an online payment system where the beneficiaries of Mahapola can contribute online both locally and internationally” he said.

Steps have also been taken to introduce the Mahapola Loan Fund. The students will be able to take loans which can be repaid after securing employment. A very small interest will be added to this. This will help students to buy necessary equipment and devices related to their degree,” he said.

Bandara explained that it is more than 35 years since the Mahapola Trust Fund was established but there is no Head Office until now. “We are located in a small office space in Colombo 7. The Board of Trustees has approved to request donation in order to put up a Head Office. Athulathmudali had a plan to put up a Head Office with a modern language lab, lecture halls and auditorium but due to some reasons it was not a success. Anyone interested in donating us a piece of land in Colombo can do so,” he said.

Pix: Saman Mendis