|Joel Jack, Secretary for Finance and Enterprise, Development|
Less than two months after winning the Tobago elections by a landslide, the People's National Movement led Assembly has come under fire by the Tobago Organisation of the People.
Secretary of Finance and Enterprise Development, Joel Jack has described as ‘mischievous and misleading’, the statements by TOP’s Lionel Coker and Anslem Richards regarding the operations of the THA Emergency Social Assistance Card Programme.
The senior TOP men suggested earlier this week that they had documentary evidence that as many as 4,000 cards under the social programme were distributed in the lead-up to the January 21 polls. According to a letter dated January 23, 2012, the Administrator in the Division of Finance Paul Taylor wrote the Chief Administrator in the Office of the Chief Secretary Dr. Ellis Burris seeking release of over $2.2 million to pay First Citizens Bank for issuing the cards.
The amount also includes administrative costs as shown by an invoice from the bank dated January 9, 2013, which was attached to a letter addressed to former Administrator in the Division of Finance Janet Duncan and the recently appointed Secretary for Finance Joel Jack.
However, in a media release issued on Thursday, the Finance Secretary explained that contrary to the ‘wild and unfounded’ allegations, only 142 Emergency Social Assistance Cards were issued during the period November 2012 to January 2013. “The primary objective of the Emergency Social Assistance Card Programme as approved by the Executive Council is to provide direct assistance to persons affected by an emergency as an immediate measure of relief,” the release stated.
The Secretary maintained that the Programme adheres to strict guidelines and criteria as recommended by First Citizens Bank and the Executive Council. The Secretary emphasized that stringent care is taken to evaluate all applications on a case by case basis. “Personal interviews and needs analysis are conducted to assist the Unit in its determination prior to the issuance of each card”.
The Secretary noted that the arrangement between the Assembly and First Citizens Bank has several control features, from the point of application to the disbursement of funds. “First Citizens was contracted to provide 4,000 cards to the Assembly. To date, 533 cards were delivered to the Assembly. 142 cards were issued to successful applicants between November 2012 and January 2013. At present, the Division has 391 cards in its possession, and is currently processing 101 applications,” the release stated.
The Secretary further noted that it is unfortunate that Richards and Coker would seek to politicise a facility that is designed to help Tobagonians in times of emergency and assured that the Division of Finance will not be phased in its commitment to the people of Tobago or its determination to improve the lives of all Tobagonians, especially the most vulnerable in the society.