Poor defence, minister

Social Development Minister Donna Cox - Marvin Hamilton
Social Development Minister Donna Cox - Marvin Hamilton

SOCIAL Development Minister Donna Cox chose to defend her unfortunate comments about the crowd that turned up at South Park Plaza in San Fernando on Friday to collect hampers organised by the South Park Plaza’s management.

In a tone-deaf turn of phrase, she said of a crowd estimated to be hundreds strong, "Some people are in need and some in greed."

The crowd would eventually be dispersed by police and the distribution postponed, with just 100 of the 600 hampers given out.

Ms Cox chose to stick to her overheated guns and offered no apology.

The Opposition jumped all over this own-goal, describing the minister responsible for the neediest citizens of the country as lacking in empathy.

It's hard to argue the point.

The minister offered no facts to back up her claim, instead alluding to "data" in her possession, information about fraud she should, properly, take to the police.

But what she had here was evidence of desperately needy people who were not being served adequately by her ministry.

The situation is borne out by the experiences of NGOs involved in distributing food. Revan Teelucksingh of SEWA International TT, a nonprofit service organisation, commented, "We can give out 1,000 hampers tomorrow."

If there are people who go to numerous hamper distributions, then there is work to be done to measure the real need of citizens who are largely out of work, and in far too many cases, out of options.

The Social Development Minister might be rightly concerned about the 2,000 people who have accessed both salary and income relief grants, the so-called double-dippers who were paid more than $8 million between March and September 2020.

Ms Cox may well, of course, also be right in that there are some unscrupulous people who take advantage of any such opportunities. There may well be scamps taking advantage of corporate generosity too.

But there are considerate ways of expressing the need for checks and balances to the system. The grim reality is that the country is in the second year of a pandemic and several weeks into a strict lockdown that has shut down many businesses and put thousands of lower-income workers into a financial tailspin.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister held the country firmly in that dive, hoping that continued restrictions would have a positive impact on the rate of covid19 infection.

But there's no question that in other respects things are getting harder for people on the margins.

The "opening of the borders" is a severely limited improvement, really intended to allow easier entry for returning nationals. That there are no restaurants open and no beach access ensures that tourism will remain at a standstill even for staycation adventurers keen to visit Tobago.

The Social Development Minister should apologise and commit to doing a deep dive into the circumstances of the needy, gathering the information she needs to help the desperate more effectively.


"Poor defence, minister"

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