ONE POSITIVE FEATURE OF the 21-year period of national governance by the Unity Labour Party (ULP), is, politics aside, the programmes and policies which it has initiated and administered with a built-in focus on helping the poor and vulnerable.
It is an aspect of its work of which, judging by its emphasis and repeated mention, the ULP and Government is justly proud.
That concern for the poor and vulnerable has been manifested in many ways over the years, but never more so than in the past three years following the triple blows of the COVID pandemic and its negative impact on the economy and society, the eruption of the Soufriere volcano and the damage from hurricane, floods and landslides.
These presented enormous challenges to resuscitating our economy while also assisting thousands of people to keep their heads above the water while trying to refloat the economy.
Never before has a government taken on such a massive challenge not only in economic terms but also with social implications and those for the continued administration of the country.
The more the government identified the numbers of those affected, the longer the list grew and the greater the demands made.
It was as if a proverbial “Pandora’s Box” was opened with vast numbers of persons claiming to be entitled for assistance, some under questionable circumstances.
True to form, even persons, not desperately in need, but by virtue of either political connections or position in the state machinery, sought to benefit from state largesse as well.
To be fair, one can give the government more than a passing grade for its handling of this bloated state responsibility in difficult circumstances. The sense of entitlement was growing to such an extent that many felt that the government “owed” them assistance, seemed never to be satisfied and kept increasing their demands.
At the same time there were many, including in the state administration itself, who began to worry about the sustainability of these swelling responsibilities,
especially the implications for government finance.
These concerns sometimes even caused some to question the very viability of the social safety net itself. That there were instances of a display of greed in some quarters which undermined the noble nature of the social programmes, did not help in the circumstances.Worse, even some deserved recipients did not always exhibit appreciation or gratitude.
Without in any way undermining the necessity for a deserved focus on assisting those in dire need, the poor and vulnerable, it is important that a closer examination be made of these programmes not only to ensure that they reach the most needy, but that they do not unwittingly increase the sense of dependency of those who benefit.
For instance, once again a programme of assistance for farmers — the provision of fertilizer — has been announced. This is most laudable, but do we always have to grant such assistance completely free?
Could government not have at least done some means testing which would ensure that those in greatest need would get the most relief, while those with greater capacity to pay would receive a reduced subsidy? This way, the recipients know that they too have not just an entitlement for assistance in dire times, but a responsibility as well to contribute?
The old saying that “one hand can’t clap” is still very relevant.We must seek to build and develop a sense of social responsibility in all our citizens.