Secretary of Health, Wellness and Family Development Tracy Davidson-Celestine has accused the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) deputy leader Farley Augustine of trying to blame her for his lack of representation in Parlatuvier/ L’Anse Fourmi/ Speyside.
Davidson-Celestine said Augustine was using contents from a recent Auditor General's report to attempt to tarnish her reputation.
Augustine, the assemblyman for the area, recently alleged that food vouchers were distributed in his district by Davidson-Celestine, who personally visited the area.
The Auditor General's report, which spans the period October 2019 to September 2020, raised concerns over some irregularities in the disbursement of covid19 relief, particularly food cards, food vouchers and rental assistance.
At a news briefing on Thursday, Davidson-Celestine said: “I want the people of Tobago to know that my role in the division is to ensure that we have policies set and that those policies are able to meet the people out there.”
She added, “To indicate to all and sundry that this secretary was personally involved in the processing and signing off and distributing vouchers is totally inaccurate – totally.”
She explained how she got involved in the distribution of grants in the electoral district.
“On one of my public days, one of my liaison officers of the division attached to the Office of the (Health) Secretary indicated to me that there was an overwhelming situation at Blue Waters Inn (Speyside) where quite a number of the persons had lost jobs.
"In addition to that, there were some reafforestation workers who would have come to the end of their contract and needed food support. I quickly asked them to collect the information so that they can be brought into the system and be dealt with accordingly.”
She said there was no call to her office from the representative asking for any support for those affected.
“What was the assemblyman doing at that point in time?
"The assemblyman speaks from all sides of his mouth without telling people the truth and so the food cards that were distributed would have gone through a particular process, because I was there to interact with the people and to ensure that the system was churning out food support to those who were in need.
"I did not see, I have not heard from the assemblyman in that electoral district – so don’t try to distract the people of Tobago. I think the people of that electoral district must focus on the lack of representation of their representative throughout that time.”
Davidson-Celestine noted statistics from the THA Division of Finance and the Economy showing the number of requests put forward by assemblymen for financial aid. She said in Augustine's electoral district only 15 applications were put in.
“Where was he in the height of the covid19 when all of his people were looking for support?
"That is the question that we have to ask Farley Augustine...The point must not be lost that as the secretary leading the division and whose role and responsibility it is to ensure that the people of Tobago can eat and that the people of Tobago have a roof over their heads, I did my part and I did my duty."
She said throughout the pandemic, the focus has always been on ensuring that people, at least, receive the basic level of care.
“When it came to things like food and when it came to things like rental assistance, we tried to ensure that we had a very responsive system to ensuring that people eat, most importantly, and that they have a roof over their head – that is what it was all about.”
She said the division had to make adjustments to ensure that funding and personnel were available to treat with those basic needs.
“While we understand the need for process – I am not saying no – as outlined in the auditor general’s report, I am saying that we had to find a way based on the overwhelming situation to treat with the basic needs of the people.”
She said hundreds of people descended upon the division requesting help. She said this indicated that there was an overwhelming situation and therefore the process needed to be revised.
“Out of the Office of the Chief Secretary, we borrowed some of their staff which would have been the community liaisons officers, they would have helped with the exercise of calling persons to bring in documentations as it related to rental assistance.
"And in the Office of the Secretary, there are also liaison officers and they were asked to devise a system that would see the distribution of food cards.”
She said the system up to that point would have seen 1,197 people getting food support and rental assistance from the division. She said the role of the secretary in that exercise was mainly to provide support to the staff, ensure that there was observation, and that the systems were meeting the people where they were.