Last update: 13-Dec-2013 3:20 am
Friday, December 13, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Glenn on Jack’s sex, food card claims: More baseless accusations
Minister of the People and Social Development Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh said yesterday he was again considering legal action over Independent Liberal Party (ILP) interim leader Jack Warner, this time following accusations that a sex ring was operating in his ministry. Calling the accusation made by Warner baseless, Ramadharsingh said: “My lawyers are looking at all of that. I will not respond to baseless accusations.” At an ILP meeting in Sangre Grande on Saturday, Warner claimed a government minister was running a “sex ring” at his ministry. Warner said: “Employees are forced to have sex for favours. I have names and places and dates of the persons involved.”
He said an employee was fired after she complained and accused the minister of condoning the sex ring. He also accused the minister of allowing an abuse of the food card system. The TT Card programme falls under Ramadharsingh’s ministry. Yesterday, Ramadharsingh called a press conference at his Port-of-Spain ministry to clear the air on the food card issue. He said he wanted to respond because Warner openly displayed food cards on the platform. “His allegations suggest there are fraudulent practices occurring within the Targeted Conditional Cash Transfer Programme (TCCTP), under which the TT Card operates,” he said. The TCCTP is a short-term food assistance initiative specifically intended to benefit vulnerable people and families with limited or no income, a government Web site said.
The programme is designed to help TCCTP recipients buy basic food items using a debit card called the TTCard. Denying Warner’s allegations of corruption in the system, Ramadharsingh said temporary food cards (TFCs) are distributed through the networks of MPs, through which assessments are done by representatives at their constituency offices. “MPs therefore receive TFCs to provide assistance and food security to their respective constituents. “It is therefore quite unfortunate that cards that were shown publicly were not given to persons that deserve them,” he said, implying that the cards Warner displayed were those Warner had received to give out to needy people.
Ramadharsingh said cards distributed without assessments and signature sheets were immediately deactivated. “Persons are also to be reminded the programme is administered through an electronic cash transfer platform, which is a cashless system, therefore no actual cash is disbursed,” he added. He said in June 2012, a regional co-ordinator did not return a batch of cards issued for use at direct-effect walkabouts, which was in breach of departmental guidelines and policies. “These cards were immediately deactivated since the signature sheets were not received and there was concern that the process for issuing cards may be compromised,” he said. He said after investigations a comprehensive report was sent to the then permanent secretary recommending the termination of the co-ordinator for incompetence and breaking departmental policies. "It also resulted in some staff resigning because they were not meticulous in executing their duties under his supervision. This file, with all the relevant documentation, is being addressed,” he said. Ramadharsingh responded to Warner’s allegations that food cards were being used to buy meat for weddings and for river limes this way: “It should be stated that in the TCCTP household-based intervention, eligibility is determined through an assessment of all members of the household, in addition to the completion of a social assessment and social investigation, which involves physical house verifications.”
He said globally, all social programmes are plagued with a certain degree of errors. “We are currently working towards improving on these errors and are in the process of implementing a biometric system where fraud will be almost totally eliminated,” he said. Since its inception, the TCCTP had come to the rescue and assistance of many single mothers, children, the sick, the elderly and the underprivileged, he added. Ramadharsingh said the executive of the TCCTP and his ministry welcomed all information relating to abuses or impropriety among clients or employees of the programme. Since the inception of the TCCTP in 2006, there have been allegations of undeserving people receiving food cards. That, he said, “is due in part to the programme inheriting approximately 15,000 clients from the SHARE database, where strict mechanisms to determine eligibility into that programme did not always exist.
“However, in 2008 a nationwide client verification/sterilisation exercise was conducted, resulting in over 6,000 undeserving persons being removed from the programme.” Ramadharsingh said the division also had an internal mechanism and a systematic review exercise was carried out monthly to determine if clients’ circumstances have improved since coming into the programme. If so, those households were “graduated” from the programme through a component called Rise Up, he said. Ramadharsingh has already sent a pre-action protocol letter to Warner over another allegation made at an earlier meeting. The ILP leader, showing photographs, alleged at a meeting that Ramadharsingh owned six palatial houses. Yesterday, Ramadharsingh said he was suing Warner but the courts were in recess and the matter would become active as soon as they reopened. The Integrity Commission has also initiated an investigation into the earlier matter.
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