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Call for drug testing before babycare grant

Published: 
Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Government should consider instituting drug and alcohol testing for those receiving the $500 monthly babycare grant, lest these resources be used for the wrong products, PNM MP Amery Browne has advised.

Speaking in yesterday’s 2015 budget debate, Browne added: “We know there are unscrupulous businessmen out there, no matter what systems are put in place who will be very happy to exchange it (grant money) for alcohol and drugs and because these families are vulnerable, we need to ensure layers of protection. “So I’m going to recommend the Government implement drug and alcohol testing with regard to such grants.”

Browne said he would recommended drug/alcohol testing for all MPs too but one on the PP side who was no longer there did not like it. On the babycare grant, Browne said he was not for or against something that assisted poor families but Government had not thought it out and the programming for the idea had not been properly formulated. 

He said the fund should be incorporated with other agencies in the same field—the National Parenting Programme, Family Planning Association—and those should be strengthened. Browne said the budget lacked the glue to make it a cohesive document and budgets were not only about “sweeteners”.

“This budget is like a sweet drink—all sugar and no nutrients. It plays to the culture of what-I-could-get, dependency, the lowest level,” he said, calling on Finance Minister Larry Howai to apologise for saying the old age pension was $1,950 when the PP took office, when it was really $2,500.

Browne challenged the Prime Minister to clear the air on information he received that a former senior staffer involved with the Children’s Life Fund was identified as being involved in high-level fraud, forging cheques and defrauding parents who came to the fund. He said the person was no longer there but there was no police action save, “the desire to cover it up and pretend all is well. Tell T&T what’s going on with this fund,” he urged.

He also called on the PM to say if any police action was being taken against a retired police officer who was fired from the Social Development Ministry when she took over that ministry several months ago. Browne said he had learnt (from ILP MP Jack Warner) the person in question was back at the ministry. He said while strong police action had been expected, there was only “silence and cover-up.”

He slammed National Security Minister Gary Griffith who he said was trying to portray himself as a “superhero, a zero-star general of the armed forces.” He said Griffith had no comment on the Dana Seetahal probe or certain autopsies. 

Browne said if he believed two pathologists on the autopsies of Lance Cpl Curtis Marshall, he would think T&T had homicidal individuals in uniform. Nor had he heard about any action against uniformed officers reportedly involved with the now defunct Life Sport programme.

Saying there was a mosquito epidemic in the western peninsula, Browne said entire families had the chikungunya virus and the Port-of-Spain General Hospital had stopped testing for it. He called for upgraded inset vector help.  While Browne was happy at the progress of the National Oncology Centre, he criticised the state of other health institutions, lack of supplies and medicines at others and RHA issues.

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