Daly Bread: Honest to God; don’t abuse state support for Covid-19

We reach, oui. One holy man has to tell other holy men—in a nice way of course—to be honest with the money that the Government is giving to religious organisations to provide food support to its poor following the economic impact of Covid-19.

“Do the right thing”, Dr Knolly Clarke, Head of the Inter Religious Organisation (IRO) told its members, perhaps made fearful by a report of a pastor requesting tithes for his church.

Photo: Bishop De Van Narine raised eyebrows during the Covid-19 pandemic by publicly asking his followers to pay tithes from their relief packages.

Honest to God, if we cannot expect holy men to be honest with God, then is it that ‘all ah we t’ief’—as a former PNM Minister, asserted in 1986?

And ay, ay, did Matilda come in an Aruban costume and take we gasoline and run Venezuela? ‘Honest to God’, did we not know that the costume might be a front, or were the energy sector bosses wilfully blind to the disguise?

The use of the Honest to God protestation is intended to emphasise the truth of what is being said. The thing is, that it is much misused as in ‘honey, honest to God I wasn’t gambling with the boys last night’.

In the public domain, this protestation cannot be a substitute for accountability.  It is right and necessary therefore vigorously to challenge the Government’s protestations about the fuel sale to Aruba, no matter how thin skinned this Government repeatedly shows itself to be.

Nevertheless, no way, no how, can it be right for the UNC to run to the US authorities, reckless as to whether it might increase the risk of the country, to which we all belong, getting into trouble with its relations with the US—the ultimate consequence of which can be trade prohibitions as well as visa restrictions on selected officials.

The t’iefing thing was in the news last week also because the Minister of Planning and Social Development, Mrs Camille Robinson-Regis, admonished some citizens for dishonestly trying to access Covid-19 emergency social assistance benefits.

Photo: Minister of Planning and Social Development and PNM Women’s League chair, Camille Robinson-Regis.
(Copyright Ministry of Planning)

“Be honest. Camille warns COVID fraudsters,” was one headline in this newspaper, while another report quoted the Minister, in reference to the religious bodies doing the right thing, as saying: “they know God watching them.”

I hope that honesty will be applied when the ‘verification’ process of the applications for the salary relief grants for the self-employed is being carried out.  Partisan political control and fair-play are not natural bedfellows.

We can be reasonably confident that the National Insurance Board (NIB), a statutory body with tripartite membership, will not look the other way while persons other than those registered for NIS mysteriously seek to slip-in among those receiving payment via the NIB, and that it will repel attempts at political interference, if made.

Will the desire for political control license political busybodies successfully to unduly influence who, among the ‘self-employed’, will receive grants in the absence of clear criteria for ‘verification’? Similar concerns arise in the case of ‘assessment’ for food-card support.

Of course, if in those decades before the decline of oil and gas markets and Covid-19, we had implemented caring but sustainable social development objectives, we would not have many of these problems. For example, there are long outstanding suggestions to expand NIS to include the self-employed, who now cannot be promptly and transparently identified and provided for in this sudden Covid crisis.

Photo: A San Fernando barber reveals the strains of his livelihood after a month without work due to Covid-19 related restrictions.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

Let’s be honest to God that the socio-economic difficulties, which are now so stark, are the result of past neglect, freeness and conspicuous consumption of energy sector foreign exchange earnings, coupled with failure to build and maintain credible institutional strength, anchoring us against the vagaries of partisan politics.

Things were too nice for the majority of the ‘haves’ to be bothered. The pandemic has brutally unmasked the extremely fragile situation of the poor.

Apparently the Road to Recovery Committee and its add-on members are considering a new ID card. I welcome this news because recovery thinking must include prescriptions for good administration and better implementation.

May I suggest that, in consultation with those who have the confidence of poor citizens, we move towards a micro-chip technology ID card without which the bearer cannot receive state benefits, save in very exceptional circumstances.

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