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Surujdeo Mangaroo: Corporate T&T must do more to help deal with poverty
T&T still has a lot of poverty and the corporate sector must do a little more to help deal with this situation. This is the view of Surujdeo Mangaroo, chairman of the National Commission For Self Help Ltd, who said he was saddened by the fact that some people still use latrines. In explaining the progress made by the commission over the last 27 years, Mangaroo admitted that some smart men and women try to con the commission by submitting bogus applications.
Q: Mr Mangaroo, this concept of self-help, isn’t it a rather convoluted system of a type of dependency syndrome?
A: (At the Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain, head office of the National Commission For Self Help Ltd...and vigorously protesting) No. No. This concept is to encourage people to do things on their own with assistance from the relevant agencies.
While I cannot give you an accurate figure of how many individuals, groups and organisations we have assisted over the last 27 years, what I can tell you is what we have done since the advent of my tenure in October 2010. We have done quite a number of projects throughout T&T...all 41 constituencies.
Specifically what kind of groups and organisations is the commission mandated to assist?
We do faith-based organisations: churches, temples, mandirs, and individuals with building materials and they would provide the labour component. Technical features like plumbing and electrical we also undertake.
Let’s say that someone like Paras Ramoutar (communications adviser to Mr Mangaroo, who sat in on the interview) would like to get some assistance for whatever reason, what’s the procedure he has to undergo?
Well, it depends on what he wants. We have an application form for minor repairs and we do give an average of 2,000 of those grants per annum. When I assumed office, our subvention was just $35 million per year. We are not an income-making entity, we are dependent on the Government for our survival.
Last year, our budget was increased to $60 million, but I can also tell you that we could do with more “donzai” to improve on our delivery to a larger number of people. Based on the limited resources we try to stretch our dollar.
Does this include the rental of this building, and how much is that figure?
About $75,000 a month. We do not own any property apart from the equipment in this building.
Have any smart men or women, ever attempted to hoodwink you all by making false claims?
(Shrugging his shoulders) Well, yes. You do get that every so often...
Some people try to get a grant in the name of the head of the home, mainly the father, then one year later we see an application coming in the name of the mother (laughs). But we are able to track those things and mercifully that is not a serious problem at the commission. Our officers have been in the field for a number of years now and they are quite able to detect such unsavoury conduct wherever and whenever they crop up.
Because of the vigilance of our officers assigned to the various constituencies, they are able to detect smart men and women as you have described them. They cannot succeed. They cannot succeed.
Is it possible that your commission duplicates the work performed by the Ministry of the People?
I don’t think so. If there is any, it would just be with the housing grant. But still, we do not give a cheque to individuals. They have to produce an estimate and the lowest estimate is accepted, and we make sure that the materials ordered are being used for the purpose intended.
Has it been your experience, Mr Mangaroo, that there are any areas in the country more in need of the commission’s services more than others...Caroni, Laventille, Westmoorings?
We do a lot of projects in the Diego Martin, Morvant areas, Laventille as well, and we need to empower a lot of these people in rural areas but we don’t have the resources and training to do that kind of work. We have a hydroponics project in Maracas, St Joseph; we did one in (Sangre) Grande and some other districts.
If you had to identify a particular area or areas which are in need of the commission’s work but because of inadequate funding you are unable to do so, what areas these would be?
I do not want to single out any community but yes, we still have a lot of poor people in this country and I feel we should do better, and corporate Trinidad needs to go out there and do not do just one project in isolation, but do a bit more.
I think the business sector can come and assist even more in the rebuilding process, especially where there are fires at the homes of poor people. That is important and like I always say, there is poverty throughout the land regardless where we live…I have seen poverty in Port-of-Spain, in Laventille. When I leave here, I am going to Cedros to see two poor families. Some communities need that extra push to go out there and help themselves.
Mr Mangaroo, when the commission was established, the needs that existed then...are they still there or has it changed in any way?
(Clearing his throat and gesticulating with his hands.) It continues. I will tell you something, eh. You know something called rural neglect?
Does it exist today as it did way back in 20-something?
Well, I did not look at the statistics but what I saw when I began my term in office and what I am seeing now, it is becoming more and more prevalent. It hurt me when I first visited Laventille that people were using communal latrines…they still do, but there is little I can do. There is little I can do (voice lowering almost to a whisper).
Didn’t the Mighty Sparrow mentioned that in his Ah like it so, which spoke of the ONR’s plight while campaigning for the 1981 general election, and doesn’t that say something about the country’s political landscape?
I don’t want to comment on that one, eh. Don’t put me in that spot at all…I cannot answer that at all. But we try to improve the communities wherever I go. My focus is on the young people, and I love to see young people making an effort to get things done.
Has the commission changed its modus operandi from then to now?
To an extent, yes. When I go out there, l see what they are doing to attract the young people, and when I see the churches doing a lot to bring young people together to keep them away from those negative aspects of our society out there, we would go one step further to assist.
Although this is not under the direct purview of the commission, however, in your interaction with the various communities, which are the most underdeveloped in the socioeconomic context?
North-east Trinidad. The Toco/Matelot districts need very much to have some developmental projects.
What about the rest of the East–West Corridor?
Mr Raphael, I believe you want me to comment in a certain manner about antisocial behaviour of some residents in these areas (laughs), but I will not. But things could happen there and as a country we need to go in there and change the lifestyle, that is what we need to do. I visit those areas regularly and the people are willing, but they need guidance.
We cannot deal with some of the adults, but we can surely do something to prevent this young generation from falling by the wayside. We cannot take away their weapons but, as I said, they need guidance in every form and fashion.