“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
The Minister in Ministry of the People and Social Development has dismissed Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley’s claim that the ministry’s Rise Up programme budget is to be increased to $3 billion. Vernella Alleyne-Toppin was speaking at the ministry’s Social Policy Forum yesterday at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain. At a media conference at Parliament on Monday. Rowley claimed the Government intended to use the programme as an election tool in the coming year.
He said the name of the programme was similar to the People’s Partnership 2010 slogan We will rise. “The ministry did not allocate $3 billion to Rise Up. The ministry’s entire budget for the year was $3.4 billion, so that would not have been possible,” Alleyne-Toppin said. She said the programme, which had been adopted by Barbados, St Lucia and Jamaica, had been in T&T since 2006. “Since 2010 we have augmented and enhanced the programme,” Alleyne-Toppin said.
The Rise Up (Rights of Individuals to Social and Economic Security, Universal Prosperity) programme is a component of the food card programme, which provides developmental support to those most in need in terms of health, income, housing, education, safety and security, family dynamics and employment. Alleyne-Toppin accused Rowley of politicising the programme.
“This is a programme that has been in effect in our ministry since 2006. It is something that we have been using for poverty alleviation and it is bearing fruit. We have graduated many people out of our projects and we will continue to help people.
“It has nothing to do at all with any election.” She said the programme was a transformation of another programme initiated by the People’s National Movement called Step Up.
“Should I then say that the PNM, that was there before us, put Step Up in to win the 2010 elections? I cannot say that. Obviously, if that was a strategy of theirs, it did not work, they did not win the 2010 elections.” Alleyne-Toppin did not reveal the actual budget for the programme, but said this would be divulged by the Prime Minister in Parliament on Monday.
It was a PNM programme
In a release on Tuesday Communications Minister Vasant Bharath said Rowley’s “penchant for fabrication” had inadvertently helped to reveal the PNM’s failure with the Targeted Conditional Cash Transfer programme. “Had Dr Rowley properly researched the history of the programme, he would have realised that it was in his best interest to say nothing, as it was under his government the programme was seriously abused, and it is the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration that cleaned up the programme,” Bharath said.
He noted that in 2010 a report of the Auditor General found the ministry was not reaching acceptable numbers of poor and vulnerable people quickly enough.
“It was for this reason that the Persad-Bissessar administration comprehensively reviewed and cleaned up the programme and launched the TT Card in 2011. Following that, the Rights to Individuals to Social and Economic Security, Universal Prosperity (‘Rise Up’) programme was launched to improve the benefits to the vulnerable, by providing training for card-recipients to empower them to earn their own incomes.”
He said the programme was a success, as in 2012, 5,250 temporary food cards had been distributed to the 41 constituencies. “If changing a programme from one that bred dependency into an inclusive programme that guides people to greater independence is what Dr Rowley refers to as a corrupt use of the programme, then what he is saying is that he prefers that the poor be kept dependent on the state, rather than be empowered to build their own lives,” the minister said.
Bharath dismissed Rowley’s allegations on the appointment of Christine Newallo-Hosein as an adviser to the minister, saying: “The memo dated May 9 2014, from the Prime Minister to Mr Simeon Yearwood, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the People and Social Development stated that an adviser to the minister is to be appointed and is completely in keeping with allowances for personal support staff positions to a minister.”