The National Commission for Self Help Ltd (NCSHL) has been distributing grants in Tobago in the days before the December 6 THA elections.
The media were not invited to these distributions and no press releases about them were sent out.
Despite numerous attempts, Newsday was unable to confirm how many grants were prepared and the amount distributed last Thursday, Tuesday and this Thursday. Newsday understands the distribution started last week.
Scores of people were seen on these days visiting the office on Milford Road in Canaan.
signing at a table set up at the entrance and leaving with envelopes.
On Thursday there was a line of people around 9 am waiting to collect grants of between $15,000 and $25,000 for home repairs.
After an hour people trickled in, some seen running through the rain on their way to the office to collect.
A few grant recipients stopped across the street to talk to Newsday after collecting their grants during the commission’s third distribution on the island.
Rhonda Fraser said, “I have been out of work for over a year, so anything I get is small.
“I’m normally an independent person and I do my own stuff, so this assistance kind of cushions the fall of the economy.”
She also told Newsday she applied for the grant early last year and was surprised by how quickly the application was processed after she was called in to update the invoice.
“I got a call a couple of days ago to redo my quotation. I did that, dropped in it and got a call yesterday to come, so of course, I was very surprised.”
She doesn’t think the grant distribution was linked to the upcoming Tobago House of Assembly election.
“I don’t think so, because my parents are elderly and when the field officer saw the need to have my application processed quickly. I think it was more passion than an election gimmick.”
Another woman said she applied and has been waiting for six years. Her home is on the verge of collapsing and needed emergency repairs.
“The house was low and the water was undermining the land. Eventually we tried to do something. They only came some time last week to see what needed to be done to process the application, and they called yesterday to tell me to come.”
She received a $15,000 house repair grant for her Golden Lane home.
“I have been calling over and over for the past six years, and all they keep telling me is that it’s approved, (but) they are waiting for funds to be released.
“When election time coming, they bring all the gifts and goodies to support them…they could have given all these people the grant already, but they waited until three days before the election to come and say what?
“We now have to try to hurry to go by the hardware, because they give it a deadline to collect materials. That’s not making any sense.
We pass that stage by now. They should have done better than that.”
Nathan Williams of Lambeau told Newsday he feels relieved and grateful to finally get the grant to improve the poor condition of his home.
“All my louvres rust down with the sea blast.”
He applied over a year ago.
Asked if he thinks the grant is an election goodie, Williams said he is just grateful he now has the help he has been waiting for.
Andy Cunningham applied three years ago the grant for repairs to his home. Like Williams, Cunningham said he was happy to get the assistance.
Several attempts to contact CEO Elroy Julien, including waiting at the commission’s Tobago office, were unsuccessful.
Asked to confirm if any grant distribution is happening in Tobago, communications officer Kerri-Ann said, “No, I can’t confirm, no.” Newsday saw Joseph at the Tobago office during the distribution before calling her.
She said, “I won’t be able to say. I believe you spoke to CEO Elroy Julien already?”
Newsday explained that attempts had been made over the past two days to contact Julien.
She then recommended trying to reach him again.
Chairman of the board Anthony Campbell was also unable to confirm the grant distribution in Tobago. He said he didn’t know about it and referred Newsday to Julien.
“I don’t know about that, I’m just the chairman, I’m not working in the company.” He too referred Newsday to Julien.
However, Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe confirmed grant distributions are happening in Tobago and told Newsday the commission is simply doing its work.
Asked to comment on rumours that the distributions are being used in the hope of swaying voters for the THA elections, she said, “I don’t think it’s that. There is no song and dance, there is no media; it’s just Self Help doing its work. Every time we give Self Help grants there isn’t a ceremony or function.”
She adding that some of the distributions were updating expired vouchers.
Owing to covid19, the grants are being given out in smaller batches to avoid overcrowding, she said.
“We had our first release for this fiscal (year), and the commission started in Tobago.
“Remember the commission has been focusing on providing support on different areas at a time. From time to time they distribute in these areas without ceremonies and the media.
“Now Tobago is the focus but, because of the high covid19 numbers, I don’t recommend any type of gathering.”
She was unable to give a total for amount of money given in grants during the current distributions.
She also referred Newsday to Julien.