October 11, 2011
Minister Stephenson denies opposition claims

Minister of National Mobilisation, Social Development etc., Frederick Stephenson has denied claims by some persons who say that they were refused public assistance because of their political affiliation.{{more}}

The question was raised in the House of Assembly on Thursday, September 29, by Opposition Senator Anesia Baptiste, who called on the minister to state whether the claim was true.

Baptiste further asked whether some persons are instructed to see their constituency representatives before being considered for public assistance.

According to Baptiste, there were a large number of complaints of elderly and ailing constituents whose family members are unable to access public assistance for their loved ones, as they claim that when they address their requests to the Social Welfare Department they are often instructed to go see their area representative.

But Stephenson denied the claims, saying that the question was “pregnant with falsehoods.”

“It is neither the policy, nor practice of the Ministry nor the Family Affairs Division to instruct anyone seeking public assistance to see their constituency representative before they can be considered,” the minister said.

He explained that public assistance is administered through the Family Affairs Division and is guided by the Public Assistance Act.

“According to the Act, persons wishing to access public assistance have to forward their requests to the Public Assistance Board via the board members for their respective constituencies; the requests are then processed by the Family Affairs Division,” Stephenson explained.

He further added that being a supporter of the Unity Labour Party was not a condition for receiving public assistance.

“It would seem to me that the suggestion was intended for political mischief.

The public assistance programme seeks to enhance the socio-economic status of the poor and needy and indigent in our society,” he said, adding that as of September, 2011, the list showed that some 5,516 persons were receiving public assistance at a cost of EC$1.2 million a month.

He contended that all persons who were eligible to receive public assistance have access to the programme, regardless of their political affiliation.

Stephenson further noted that he was unaware that persons with letters of recommendation from medical doctors were being turned down.

He said that he had been advised by the Director of the Family Affairs Division that due diligence is given to every request made, according to the requirements and conditions laid out.

“My government and Ministry continue to serve the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines with dignity, pride, equity and fairness, irrespective of their political affiliation,” he said.

However, Baptiste, by way of a supplementary question, asked if it were possible that there may be officers who do instruct persons to go to their area representatives first.

“Because I do not accept you implying that Vincentians are lying on the Department; there are real stories like that,” she said.

Stephenson responded, however, that he was not aware of that and if that is brought to his attention, such persons would be dealt with. (DD)