Former Social Development Minister under the 2008-2013 Congress government, Sylvester Quarless has accused the Keith Mitchell Administration of using its political whip to cut off persons, who are perceived to have a different political opinion from the administration from under the longstanding Support for Education, Empowerment and Development (SEED) Programme.
Speaking at the weekly press conference held by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) on Monday, the Caretaker for St. Andrew South-west constituency said that some of the approximately 5000 Grenadians who are currently receiving financial assistance under the SEED programme could be affected by the decision to cut the list.
According to the ex-government minister, he expects that figure could drop significantly in January 2017 because 476 persons could be affected as a result of an undertaking by the regime to revamp the programme.
The Ministry of Social Development has already sent out letters to affected persons informing them of the change in their status under the programme.
The NDC caretaker referred to a situation in his constituency involving an 82-year-old man and his wife, who have been issued a letter informing them that they will be cut from the programme.
Quarless told reporters that the elderly couple were not able to attend a meeting to be re-interviewed for eligibility under the programme because at the time the meeting was convened the elderly man “was a patient at the Princess Alice Hospital in St. Andrew.
He charged that as a result of the letter received, the pressure of the elderly man “gone up, man sick, wife sick (and) they have no other source of income.”
According to a poverty assessment done in 2008, some 37.7% of Grenadians were living under the poverty line, surviving with less than EC$425.00 monthly.
The former Social Development Minister took issue with the fact that the current Social Development Minister, Delma Thomas has stated that persons who are in receipt of any assistance adding up to EC$200.00 from any other source, including the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) would no longer qualify for the programme.
“So in effect, what you are trying to tell the Grenadian people is that if you have EC$200 from a different source you cannot get financial assistance under the SEED programme,” he said.
Quarless charged that “there are some persons that are supportive of the government (and are) receiving a pension but at the same time they are on the list to receive aid under the SEED programme”.
“To me this is pulling straw in the wilderness,” Quarless said. “You cannot treat our people like this… “It is not fair,” he added.
He recalled that Minister Thomas indicated last week that Government has nothing to do with what is happening and that the revamping of the programme is being done by a London-based consultant from the World Bank.
Quarless accused the female government minister and MP for St. Andrew North-west of “massaging the truth”.
He pointed to a letter received by one of the affected persons, which he quoted as saying “that an important feature of the SEED programme is that it targets poor families with the use of a targeting tool that has been designed using data from a national census”.
He explained that the “targeting tool used is called the Grenada Living Condition Indicator (GLCI),” which he said “generates a score that determines if households that have applied to the SEED programme are indeed poor and vulnerable (and) only those households with scores that meet the criteria will qualify to participate in the SEED programme.”
Quarless said he does not know “if it’s from some rabbit that she (Minister Thomas) pulled out this consultant in London due to the fact that “we have the GLCI, a programme that generates scores in Grenada.”
According to the ex-government minister, while it is understood that the SEED programme has reached a point where “renegotiation would have to take place with some international bodies in relation to refinancing” government should not be using its authority to “punish persons who are perceived to be carrying a different opinion than theirs.”
Mitchell’s ruling New National Party (NNP) has often been accused of using state resources to victimise opponents.
Social activist, John Rullow, who is visually impaired and known to be a strong critic of the administration, has received a letter informing him that he will no longer get benefits from the SEED programme.