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Complaints have been made about the method used by the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security to distribute school uniform vouchers in the West Berbice sub-region. Some local government officials who spoke with this newspaper said the system was politicized and lacked transparency.
However, Minister Bibi Shadick has refuted these statements saying vouchers were distributed in several villages on the basis of need across the sub-region.
According to the Minister vouchers were distributed in Rising Sun, Britannia, Lovely Lass, Golden Fleece, No. 28 Village, Hope Housing Scheme, Waterloo Bath, Bath Settlement, Bush Lot, D’Edward, Yankdam, Murphy Dam, Rosignol, Woodley Park, Blairmont Settlement, Nos 1,2,3, and 4 Villages Blairmont, Plantation Jacob, Plantation Ross and Armadale. But the disgruntled argue that those who received vouchers were handpicked by local PPP/C activists and as a result a large number of needy children in predominantly black communities were neglected.
Edwin Joseph, Chairman of the largest Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) in the sub-region, Naars-tigheid/Union, which encompasses 13 villages noted that his Council like all others in Region Five (West Berbice/Mahaica) was sent a letter from the office of the Regional Democratic Council (RDC). The letter signed by the Assistant Regional Executive Officer (REO) R. Singh said inter alia “the Regional Administration of Region Five is seeking your cooperation in identifying... needy persons. As such you are requested to submit to the above office on or before July 15, 2003, a list of those persons in need stating the names of parents, the names of children, dates of birth and schools they are attending.” The letter also pointed out that Cabinet had approved $34 million to purchase school uniforms for needy children.
A visibly irate Joseph told this newspaper that on receipt of the letter his NDC immediately began compiling a list of needy children from the various villages. “The list was submitted to the Regional Democratic Council as requested. It was an obvious shock when we realized that only children in Bush Lot were in receipt of vouchers and that none of the names submitted by us was taken into consideration.” Shadick in response claimed that “some of the NDCs handpicked children.”
According to Joseph, the NDC was asked to conduct an arduous exercise which eventually turned out to be a cosmetic one. “We were taken for a ride by senior government officials who made us waste valuable time and money on an exercise which appeared geared only for propaganda purposes. We were made to believe that the names we submitted would have been accepted and given vouchers... “ One councillor told this newspaper that the distribution of vouchers at Bush Lot, a PPP/C stronghold was conducted from the home of a well-known party member.
A Ministry source in New Amsterdam told this newspaper that the Department had nothing to do with the distribution of vouchers, disclosing that the final lists were compiled by party officials.
A senior official at the RDC office at Fort Wellington, West Berbice said that the administration dispatched letters to the NDCs on a request from the Ministry of Human Service and Social Security. The lists after being submitted were then sent to the ministry. The Naarstigheid/Union NDC submitted more than 200 names but none received vouchers.
Among the names submitted were six children who live with their unemployed mother Hermina Bowman at Lovely Lass Village. The father of the children does not live with them, neither does he support them. Another name submitted by the NDC was that of a six-year-old- girl, an orphan who lives with her elderly grandmother at No. 28 Village.
“If any child/children deserved or needed uniforms, these children did,” said one employee of the Council. “They are very, very poor and are barely eking out a living through the kindness of relatives and neighbours. Why weren’t they given vouchers?” she asked.
The issue was raised at a recent meeting of the Regional Council by Joseph, triggering a heated argument with Regional Chairman Harrinarine Baldeo. One angry parent told Stabroek News “the children whose names were submitted were expecting something. They now think they were fooled by the Councillors.” The NDC Chairman has written President Bharrat Jagdeo on the issue and is calling for an investigation into the distribution of vouchers.