PNCR: New uniform voucher system is partisan
Shadick: vouchers distributed without prejudice By Nigel Williams
September 2, 2003
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The PNCR has strongly criticised the Ministry of Human Services’ handling of the distribution of school uniform vouchers, saying that the ad hoc and apparently uncontrolled arrangements create an environment for corruption and discrimination.
The party says it appears there are no clear guidelines for the distribution being undertaken.
But Minister of Human Services, Bibi Shadick in an invited comment said the PNCR’s comments were only intended to create mischief and undermine the work of her ministry.
Only recently a number of parents from Sophia turned up at the ministry to pick up vouchers but were turned away.
In a previous statement on the situation Social Security Minister Bibi Shadick had said no vouchers were being distributed at her ministry. She said following similar confusion last year she had decided to have the distribution done in each region and in the case of George-town each area was being handled by different persons. In the case of Sophia, Shadick had told this newspaper that Parliamentary Secretary Philomena Sahoye-Shury, the Member of Parliament for that area, had been entrusted with the distribution of vouchers.
The minister had also mentioned that not everyone who wanted school uniform vouchers would receive them as they first had to be eligible. One of the requirements was the parents must be genuinely unable to afford uniforms.
Speaking at the party’s weekly press conference on Thursday, Sherwood Lowe said his party understood that Shadick had removed the responsibility for the distribution of the school uniform vouchers from the Probation and Family Welfare Division and placed it under the control of the newly created Difficult Circumstances Division.
This new division, Lowe observed, was primarily staffed by contract workers recruited from and through Freedom House with no formal training in social work.
He accused the ministry of polticising the process with PPP activists dealing with the new division and being given total responsibility for a number of areas including Leguan, Canal Number Two and Windsor Forest.
But Shadick said the division was long in place before she became a minister and described other accusations by the PNCR as libellous.
Lowe said the process had led to the deliberate exclusion of very needy persons who were perceived not to be supportive of the ruling party.
Additionally, Lowe mentioned that the minister had issued instructions that head teachers, community and religious leaders and senior public servants were authorised to issue letters authenticat- ing persons who were in- deed faced with difficult circumstances.
According to Lowe, residents of Kitty, Campbellville and Sophia submitted letters attesting to their circumstances. However, these letters were returned to the applicants with instructions that they should be taken to Shury.
“The PNCR views this as highly irregular, since if these persons had recognised Shury as their representative they would have gone to her in the first place.”
Additionally, Lowe told the media that on June 30 Shadick met with members of the Local Boards of Guardians in Region Three, where she informed them they were authorised to recommend persons for uniform vouchers.
Lowe said subsequently, the ministry wrote the NDCs in the region advising them to compile the names of needy persons in their jurisdiction. He said a number of board members and NDCs responded, but when they submitted the names to the Regional Democratic Council they were told that the quota had already been met.
Lowe said, “the PNCR believes that the manner in which the distribution of the school uniform vouchers has been handled leaves a lot be desired...”
But Shadick said she had records to show how the vouchers were distributed, citing that there were PNCR members who collected vouchers from her ministry to distribute in certain areas, but up to now the ministry was still awaiting proof that the vouchers were indeed distributed.
According to Shadick, almost every village on the East Coast was given a quota of vouchers without any prejudice.
Lowe said his party has noted recent comments by Shadick saying that she intended to reduce the number of persons on Social Assistance and Old Age pension by 50 per cent. Lowe questioned how this would be done in a rapidly-contracting and depressed economy where only the number of desperately poor persons was increasing.
Shadick in response said the Social Assistance programme was only intended to help persons for a period of time after which the recipient must be able to eke out a living on their own.
She said instead of offering persons $1200 her ministry preferred to teach individuals life skills which would help them earn a livelihood.
She mentioned that there were cases where instead of opting to be on the Public Assistance list, persons asked for sewing machines and financial assistance to operate poultry farms and do other businesses.
She said this was the way to go, noting that some of the persons who collected the monthly stipend hardly put it to good use.
The minister added that she was appalled at the way some parents had been behaving saying that some of them were now coming to the ministry at the last moment to collect vouchers.