Prime Minister: Police probe of social development ministry worrisome

Scores of people line up outside the Ministry of Social Development on St Vincent Street, Port of Spain to apply for relief grants on October 21, 2020.   - File photo/Roger Jacob
Scores of people line up outside the Ministry of Social Development on St Vincent Street, Port of Spain to apply for relief grants on October 21, 2020. - File photo/Roger Jacob

THE Prime Minister on Saturday said the police investigation involving the Ministry of Social Development is worrisome.

Responding to questions following a search at the St Vincent Street head office in Port of Spain on Friday, Dr Rowley said: “It’s not surprising, it is worrisome we still don’t have the full picture.”

“It’s an investigation, it is going to go on. The one thing we are trying to prevent is the misdirection of the effort which that ministry is created to carry out. If there is anything wrong there we need to know and we need to fix it.”

On Friday, officers of the Anti-Corruption Investigation Bureau (ACIB) visited the ministry in relation to an ongoing investigation. Government officials said the investigation is a continuation of a probe stemming from the 2018 Greenvale flooding.

In 2018, over $81 million in flood relief cheques were distributed to citizens following the October 19 floods which devastated parts of East and Central Trinidad. More than 6,200 cheques were printed and distributed with each household receiving cheques valued either $15,000 or $20,000 depending on whether there were children at the home.

Ten people, Farrah Haniff, Heather Griffith-Benjamin, Michael Alexis, Carol Christopher-Bennett, Debbie Critchlow, Adelephia Lallion, Ajay Ramlakhan, Ramlakhan’s common-law wife Mandisa Stewart, Darren Balcon and his common-law wife Rohini Persad were all charged in November 2018 with fraudulently receiving cheques.

Since then police said they were not done with their investigations.

Police sources were unable to confirm whether the investigations extended to double dippers in the relief grants for those affected by the restriction imposed.

According to Auditor General, 2,000 people would have received both the salary relief grant from the Ministry of Finance and income support grants from the Social Development Ministry, totalling $8,115,000. The Auditor General’s report covered the period October 2019 to September 2020.

Last month, Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox said double dippers who are identified will be flagged but said the ministry was not going to punish them by not allowing them to receive assistance this year.

In an emailed response to Sunday Newsday last month, Cox said: “The ministry is ever mindful of the challenges faced by many families during these unprecedented times. Notwithstanding the circumstances that gave rise to the various instances of double dipping during the last phase of covid19 social support, the ministry is not prepared to take any action that will further exacerbate the hardship being experienced by vulnerable families at this time. Notwithstanding, this matter will be addressed when the time is right.”

Asked then what will be done to ensure there will be no repeat of double dipping, Cox said a robust ICT system was in place to will illuminate duplication of names. She said the data will be shared with the Finance Ministry to ensure recipients have national insurance (NIS) numbers before they are given their grants.


"Prime Minister: Police probe of social development ministry worrisome"

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