(Excerpts of the Hon. Daniel Cummings’ presentation on the Supplementary Estimates)
In recognition of the dramatic change in the fortunes of so many of our people and given the existing status of high unemployment before this event, the obvious need to provide a life line to a significant component of our population in a clear and unambiguous method is important.
I have been following very closely the stimulus packages in neighboring countries with particular reference to Trinidad and Tobago which has its own restrictions because of the drop in oil prices, but is fortunate enough to have a reserve fund to fall back on. What I like about what is being done there; is that the mechanism by which any member of the public can access these funds is made public, clear and above board.
There is no need for anybody to reference any parliamentary representative. The public servants are given the clear terms under which people are qualified and they administer these funds across the board. That is why in Trinidad and Tobago both government and opposition are firmed in their total support for the approach. Everybody must know if agriculture has pigs and cows what are the criteria to be used. For example, for Daniel to get a pig, it cannot be secretive. It must be made public; it must be known.
It must engender confidence in the public to say listen, my situation is such and such and our money is going in that direction and I am qualified therefore I am going to apply for the programme and I know I would get it. That is how this stimulus package has to be administered. It must leave no doubt.
Mr. Speaker, I heard a comment about the proposed stimulus for the van drivers and I shuddered and that really is what made me get scared. About if they think they could do this and get this and so forth, no established the terms.
Establish the terms! Establish the monitoring mechanism and make it above board do not make people feel because they do not support the party; they do not have a chance. These things are more than symbolic. These are serious matters.
Mr. Speaker, sometimes we fail to understand how poor this country is. Sometimes it seems as though those who are in government do not get the picture. Whatever they say about the country poverty assessment, one thing is clear. The government has information that speaks to an alarming state of unemployment in this country, very alarming. It’s not a secret. You do not have to do a pole to know that if like me representing a constituency, you cannot escape meeting all the young people and old people including, construction workers and all kinds of workers who do not have a thing to do. In many instances, the entire household is unemployed.
Mr. Speaker, for example, two hundred dollars a month has been added to the public assistance. That’s additional people and I understand that but it is not going to be done like assessments for people who get public assistance. That is neither here nor there for me because I can tell this parliament that I have been to that department for at least twenty persons to go on that system and not a single one has ever been put on, including the late “Sleepy” who died in Rose Place, an elderly man who suffered for many years but he was unable to get on to that system.
Mr. Speaker, the leader of the opposition some time ago, when we brought the motion to suspend for important matters spoke about having an approach that brings confidence to the people. I hope that this is going to be above board.
Sometimes, when people are in government too long, they lose a feel of reality. They seem to shut their minds out from anyone who is not of their own political likeness. Today, there are people in Rose Place who are suffering. A few years ago, there was a disaster and some fishermen lost their fishing equipment. They were promised that they would be replaced and get materials; to this day, they have not received anything.
There are also people in my constituency whose houses were destroyed by fire and they cannot get any assistance to reconstruct their homes. I have been to NEMO and nothing happened. I am saying at a time like now if we don’t approach this thing differently; I am afraid that there are thousands of people who are suffering and who cannot survive and if they see people who are already getting all this assistance being recipients of this two hundred dollars a month grant, I don’t know what could happen.
Further, during the debate on the supplementary estimates, Dr. Friday advised the government that persons who should benefit from the stimulus package are those who are affected including, those who have lost their jobs, the vulnerable, those in the informal sector and small businesses. He said, “This is where the pain is really being felt. This is where the funds must be allocated. I will urge that the government reconsider how the 60-odd million dollars that are going to be spent here, how they are prioritized so that they give a very clear signal that we are focused on health and the economic well-being of the people who are directly affected immediately.”
However, it would appear that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) regime wants to use the economic stimulus package to boost its chance in the upcoming general elections. There is too much secrecy surrounding the procedure of how one is to obtain benefit from the programmes and there are complaints of caretakers of constituencies for the ULP who are directly involved in selecting persons to be recipients of the programmes. The New Democratic Party will ensure that the economic stimulus package benefits all Vincentians.