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Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Bibi Shadick, during a recent visit to East Berbice told reporters that some 800 uniform vouchers valued at $1.6 million were distributed in 38 villages in Region Five (West Berbice/ Mahaica).
However, there have been widespread complaints about the distribution of the vouchers by parents in that region, who claim to have been bypassed in the process although they are needy persons.
According to the Minister: “Everybody wanted vouchers but not everyone needed and not all who needed got.”
Yet she assured: “If the names of needy children are given to me, I will still issue the vouchers so that the children could get uniforms.”
The Minister said further that assistance can be given to needy children throughout the year under the Difficult Circumstances Department of the Ministry. But she noted: “We only had a specific amount of money to spend and therefore could not give everybody.”
However, Chairman of the Naarstigheid/Union Neigh-bourhood Democratic Council (NDC), Edwin Joseph, is seeking redress from President Bharrat Jagdeo on behalf of hundreds of West Berbicians in their quest to obtain uniform vouchers for their children.
Joseph is making this move after angry parents rushed to his office and home clamouring for vouchers on a daily basis.
According to an irate Joseph, he personally checked ten schools within the NDC area, which encompasses 14 villages and found that not one needy child was the beneficiary of a uniform voucher.
“How is it possible that not one child qualified for a voucher from ten schools, when according to the Minister some 800 vouchers were distributed in Region Five?” he asked.
Joseph is questioning the transparency of the entire exercise saying that he as well as the NDC and hundreds of needy children in the 14 villages had been misled and belittled by the Regional Admi-nistration and the Ministry.
In a letter dated July 10, 2003, the Regional Executive Officer, Region Five, wrote Joseph requesting him to submit to the RDC office at Fort Wellington on or before July 15, a list of those persons in need of assistance to purchase school uniforms. The NDC was asked to submit the names of parents, names of children, dates of birth and schools they are attending. According to the letter “the Regional Adminis-tration of Region 5 is seeking your cooperation in identifying those needy persons.”
Based on this request, Joseph said he then mobilised his staff and solicited the assistance of a number of civic-minded individuals including head teachers to compile a comprehensive list. This exercise, he said, was tedious and time-consuming, but one he found worthwhile since there are a large number of children in the area who are needy. At the end of the exercise the names of some 196 students were submitted to the Regional Administration as requested. The names, he said, were submitted by head teachers, teachers, church-leaders, councillors and community-leaders.
According to Joseph, he subsequently learnt that a separate list was compiled for Bush Lot Village, one of the villages within his NDC, by the regional chairman’s secretary and that vouchers were distributed there at the home of an individual. Responding to the claim that PPP/C functionaries compiled their own lists and distributed vouchers to only PPP members, Shadick said: “We used members of the Local Board of Guardians, regional councillors, regional chairmen, education officers and religious leaders to generate the list.”
Joseph however noted that Regional Chairman Harrina-rine Baldeo, the regional executive officer and the education officer told him they knew nothing about the compilation or distribution of the lists.
According to Shadick, “the co-ordination of the exercise was done by some party activists. I however asked that known PPP/C activists should not be involved in the exercise because it is not a political exercise. I am satisfied that the exercise went well countrywide.”
Joseph refutes that saying government business was conducted at private residences in his NDC area. “Over a one-week period recently I checked with ten schools within my NDC area and was told by the heads and teachers that not a single child received any voucher,” he told this newspaper last week.
The 14 villagers within the Naarstigheid/Union NDC are: Union, Trafalgar (No. 28/29 Villages), Onverwagt, Lovely Lass, Golden Grove, Bush Lot, Armadale, No. 22/Bel Air, St John’s, Firebrace/Hopetown, Onderneeming, Catherina’s Lust, Fort Wellington and Naarstigheid. According to Joseph, apart from Bush Lot and one family at Lovely Lass, vouchers were not distributed in any other village.
Shadick had told this newspaper that vouchers were distributed in Rising Sun, Britan-nia, Lovely Lass, Golden Fleece, Trafalgar (No. 28 Village), Hope Housing Scheme, Waterloo Bath, Bath Settlement, Bush Lot, D’ Edward, Rosignol, Woodley Park, Blairmont, Plantations Ross and Jacob and Armadale.
Joseph has written President Jagdeo, Minister Shadick, the regional chairman and the regional executive officer expressing his dissatisfaction over the manner in which the entire exercise was conducted.
He has also requested the President’s intervention in ensuring that the 196 children whose names were submitted by his NDC receive their school-uniform vouchers which he says they are in need of.
Several parents with whom this newspaper spoke are calling for an investigation into the compilation and distribution of the vouchers in the Naarstigheid/Union NDC area and the wider West Berbice sub-region. Some $34 million was allocated by the government to purchase school uniforms for the nation’s needy children. Approximately $7 million in vouchers were distributed in Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) in more than 100 villages, according to the Minister.