“I have been in this House for 19 years and not once have I been able to get a person on public assistance.”
Central Kingstown MP Major St. Clair Leacock challenged Minister Fredrick Stephenson on Thursday amidst Budget 2020 Debates.
Major Leacock was at the time responding to Minister Stephenson’s ministerial 2020 to-do list. “I crave the indulgence of the Honourable Member with respect to ‘care of the elderly and public assistance.’ I just wish he could advise whether he is aware of any mechanism in which a Parliamentary Representative on this Side of the House could lend assistance or get the assistance of your department to have one on public assistance,” he queried before putting forward his allegation.
“I have been in this House for 19 years and not once have I been able to get a person on public assistance through the policies of your department and your government. Not once, not once, not once! And I know of no Member in this House on this Side who’ve ever been able to get a person to obtain public assistance, through the corrupt process –” Leacock continued but was interrupted when he was asked to show the relevance of his concern to the discussion underway.
“The relevance is you have a policy that is inimical to good governance. Not once! That’s the point. The point is that you’re preaching something that is false. It’s false! Not once in 19 years! ….These holier than thou things and all you’ve done is divided this country in red and yellow.”
Following several seconds’ worth of tense cross-talk, Prime Minister Gonsalves attempted an intercessory styled explanation.
PM Gonsalves: Mr. Speaker may I be of some assistance?
MP Leacock: Yo not well! You are not well.
PM Gonsalves: (Laughs)
Speaker Jomo Thomas: Honourable Parliamentary Representative you have had your chance to speak so now the Prime Minister is offering to help.
MP Leacock: Thank you, Mr. Speaker
PM Gonsalves: Apparently my dear friend the Honourable Member from Central Kingstown is now a medical doctor can determine just by looking at me to see whether I’m well or not. (Laughs) It is well with my soul. The flu doesn’t really affect me today in fact not to prevent me from functioning. Mr. Speaker, I just want to advise that under the Public Assistance Act, there’s a Public Assistance Board and there is at the Ministry a particular official under the Permanent Secretary who is the Secretary to that Board. And assessments are done, the assessments are done and Mr. Speaker, one can go and make a representation to the relevant person there and the matter will come up at the Public Assistance Board upon the advice of the professionals. That is how the system works. That is the way it also works for me I could tell you that.
House Speaker Jomo Thomas then tried to bring the affairs back to its original flow but MP Stephenson had this to say “Mr. Speaker this government takes care of all the elderly in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Mr Speaker, not one of the Members of the Opposition have ever come to this Minister to say that they have gone to any public official within the Ministry of National Mobilization asking for somebody to be on public assistance… so if you come and you say that you filled application forms and so on and somebody is not being on the Board – I’m the Minister, I am the Minister! You not the Minister, shame on you… I am the Minister, I am the Minister for the Board… Who you used to report to when you was Chairman? Mr. Speaker, I don’t know why the Opposition always want to play politics whenever I speak on public assistance. Every single person who goes to the Ministry for whatever kind of assistance – uniform assistance, a public assistance for the elderly, some person with disabilities need a help, some indigent person who need their electricity reconnected or water, or paying a medical bill or assisting in funeral grant get an assistance through the Ministry of National Mobilization.”
Earlier in his address Minister Stephenson reported to Parliament on some of his Ministry’s deliverables for 2019. Amongst these were a, reported 13 000 persons who received public assistance which included transport and meals allowances according to the Minister. 600 persons were added to the Youth Empowerment Service programme, 12 305 children participated in the schools’ cooperative TRIP programme, 55 single parents were given some form of assistance, 75 teen mothers and their children were also assisted to allow the mothers to return to school, 314 child abuse victims were supported, $49 000 was spent for 249 persons’ medical assistance said to be “below the poverty line” and a further $36 350 was spent as “rental assistance for 17 families below the poverty who required shelter being victims of fire,” Minister Stephenson said.
Additionally, 92 domestic abuse victims, 10 ex-convicts, 294 persons with disabilities and 2,319 elderly persons were also reportedly recipients of sundry services provided by Stephenson’s Ministry.