Trinidad and Tobago: For tens of thousands of persons desperately in need of support from the Government, today’s press conference by Colm Imbert was a bitter disappointment, said MP for Oropouche West, Davendranath Tancoo, on Sunday.
“Minister Imbert’s statements was a shameless confession of the year-long failure of several initiatives designed to provide relief to citizens most affected by COVID-19.“
“In his address, the Minister highlighted the implementation weakness which characterizes his Government. However, instead of explaining why the Government failed initially, the Minister reverted to making new promises, glibly overlooking the fact that citizens who complied with the Government’s requirements, submitted application forms and supporting documents, who were assessed and determined to be qualified for financial support, and who were promised relief, were left penniless for more than a year without receiving a cent from the PNM Government,” said Tancoo.
Salary Relief Failure
The Minister was at pains to describe that salary relief grants will be restricted to persons who lost their income only in May. However, the Minister in almost in the same breath confessed that some 7,000 applicants who qualified for these grants last year, were not able to receive support because they did not have a bank account. This is a shameful confession of incompetence and lack of priority as it is obvious that these are the very persons most in need whom the Government has unashamedly failed for a year now, and whose needs have been virtually abandoned by this regime.
These are citizens at the very lowest income levels, the poorest of the poor, who do not have money to put in a bank account, who would have probably been paid minimum wages in cash, and who would have been hardest hit by the pandemic crisis. Worse, the Minister has no idea when these persons, they deemed as desperately in need of support one year ago, will receive relief. He referred to these abandoned poor almost flippantly, as an afterthought!
Ironically, Imbert then proudly announced that “hopefully by Friday”, the forms for these grants will be online, allowing persons in need to complete and submit applications quickly. It is yet another shameful admission of failure given that after one year of the first-hand experience in processing applications for these specific grants, this PNM government still has not managed to get the process right, or to have developed a proper system.
Moreover, this assumes access to computers and the internet by persons who the Minister admits are desperately poor.
The net result is that the Minister still is unable to provide with any certainty, specific dates when these grants will be available to the poor who desperately need them.
It is no wonder that the Minister cannot provide such a date. One only has to look at the utter and complete failure of the Government to provide devices and internet to thousands of students after one year, a generation deprived of one year of education and counting, to understand the enormity of the consequences of this Government’s unfathomable incompetence.
Small Medium and Micro Enterprises
After one year, Imbert finally reported that over $229 million set aside for loans to Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises was still not accessed because applicants did not meet specific criteria like having VAT clearances etc. He was careful not to say how many applicants were rejected but confessed that the “vast majority” of applicants were unsuccessful.
Moreover, Imbert did not explain as to what the Government had done to bring these businesses into the system and to support what is a critical sector of our economy. Instead, having failed to lift a finger to assist the sector for over a year, a fact he willfully admits, Minister Imbert is only today promising to work with banks and credit unions to provide mechanisms to include these applicants. When he did not do it for a year, nobody can be expected to believe that he will act now! Nothing for tens of thousands of others.
It is unbelievable that this Government is totally clueless and out of sync with the crises that are battering our citizens. We have often highlighted the fact that even before the advent of COVID to our shores, the economy had shrunk significantly, there were multiple business closures and a dramatic rise in unemployment. Despite the introduction of new taxes and the imposition of taxes on thousands of food items previously VAT-free, the Government has been faced with a contracting tax revenue base. Ironically this comes at a time when banks are liquid with billions in cash in hand, uncommitted as the borrowing population have no confidence in the economy and their ability to generate adequate return on investment.
Hardest hit have been those on the lowest rung of the economic ladder, the lower and middle income groups. These citizens have been affected most by job loss before and since COVID, with the closure of thousands of small, medium and micro-businesses. Recent additions to the Labour force by the undocumented migrants have added to the competition to access even the most menial of jobs by these same citizens.
The net result has been a growing incidence of poverty and absolute poverty, and the significant re-emergence of the working poor, that is, persons who are employed, even part-time but whose income barely meet their needs. We all know people living day to day, meal to meal, paycheck to paycheck. We all know that those numbers have increased dramatically, especially since COVID hit us.
While our porous borders allow thousands of undocumented migrants to enter freely, Trinidad and Tobago citizens who were abandoned abroad were also told that the Government would “consider” providing some support for them. To date , the Minister has provided no information regarding how many of these persons applied for financial support and how many actually received and in what value over the past year. But, even this comment is an admission of the recognition that after one year, citizens remain abandoned abroad while certain friends and families of Government are allowed to travel freely abroad and back.
Over the last year, the Government has claimed that it has spent billions on COVID relief. Today we are advised that thousand of persons, most desperately in need, were abandoned by the Government with no effort having been made to reach them. The Minister, having not fulfilled his promises last year to help those most in need, today repeated the promise to the same people, unfortunately with the same money since he has not spent what was allocated for the purpose. The poor are being made to suffer while the Minister again engages in his giggly exploitation.