The min­istries and de­part­ments tasked with help­ing the less for­tu­nate and vul­ner­a­ble in our so­ci­ety have come in for crit­i­cism from sev­er­al Non-Gov­ern­men­tal Or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The is­sues were brought to light dur­ing a sit­ting of the Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee (JSC) ON Hu­man Rights, Equal­i­ty and Di­ver­si­ty yes­ter­day.

The JSC is man­dat­ed to look in­to the per­sons liv­ing in ex­treme pover­ty in Trinidad and To­ba­go with spe­cif­ic fo­cus on vul­ner­a­ble groups.

Dur­ing the sit­ting Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Tu­na­puna Es­mond Forde asked whether there are is­sues with ac­cess­ing ser­vices which are pro­vid­ed by the gov­ern­ment for those in need.

Su­san Gopaul, a con­sul­tant at Ser­vol, said peo­ple have re­port­ed that they don’t like go­ing in­to the min­istries be­cause they are treat­ed poor­ly and dis­re­spect­ed.

“We have to re­mem­ber that these peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty are hope-drained.” She added that, “when they go to these so­cial ser­vices the types of at­ti­tude that they get from the cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives.”

MP Forde in­ter­ject­ed, “Neg­a­tive at­ti­tude? Be spe­cif­ic.”

She con­tin­ued, “Neg­a­tive at­ti­tude, it’s like a turn off for them.”

The Sin­gle Moth­er’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Trinidad and To­ba­go then chimed in. Sher­maine Howe, SMATT pres­i­dent, said the means test and the long wait­ing times are too much for moth­ers in dire need.

“When we go there and ap­ply the time­frame is what I be­lieve they could ad­just, make it a quick­er process, es­pe­cial­ly when they know these per­sons are in dire need.”

Her com­ments were echoed by the Sin­gle Fa­ther’s As­so­ci­a­tion (STATT) pres­i­dent Rhon­dall Fee­les.

“The cus­tomer ser­vice is hor­ri­ble.”

Fee­les gave an ex­am­ple of the wife of a fish­er­man from Or­ange Val­ley who was re­port­ed­ly killed by pi­rates.

“We would have sent the moth­er to get as­sis­tance be­cause the fa­ther had died and be­cause the body was not re­cov­ered the cus­tomer ser­vice per­son told her if they ain’t find the body how you know he dead? So she has since then not re­ceived any kind of as­sis­tance.”

Fee­les al­so added that there is still a bias in cer­tain of­fices to­ward sin­gle fa­thers. He said they are still be­ing told that if the man is the head of the home that fam­i­ly can­not get pub­lic as­sis­tance.

The sto­ry told by the Sal­va­tion Army was no dif­fer­ent.

“I had a case where a la­dy got in­jured on the job and just to get dis­abil­i­ty took more than a year.” Ma­jor Car­olin­da Cum­ber­bath, sec­re­tary for So­cial Ser­vices, Sal­va­tion Army said.

She as­sert­ed that peo­ple in those de­part­ments need to do the jobs that they were hired to do.

The Lv­ing Wa­ters Com­mu­ni­ty had a bit of a dif­fer­ent twist.

As­sis­tant Di­rec­tor Rose­mary Scott said she has faced many sit­u­a­tions where min­istries ac­tu­al­ly send peo­ple to them in­stead of the oth­er way around.

“We get let­ters com­ing from the min­istry say­ing can you help this per­son. We are an NGO hop­ing to get help from the gov­ern­ment of­fices and yet they are send­ing use let­ters ask­ing for help.”

In ad­di­tion to re­port­ed poor ser­vice from the rel­e­vant gov­ern­ment agen­cies, some of the NGO’s suf­fer from a lack of ad­e­quate fund­ing to car­ry out their work, like the Na­tion­al Cen­tre for Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties which has not got­ten an in­crease in its sub­ven­tion from the Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices since 2005.

In re­sponse, Min­ster of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices Camille Robin­son-Reg­is said she is “very aware” of the poor ser­vice that the NGOs have com­plained about. She told Guardian Me­dia that be­cause of this she has hired cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives who un­der­go a cer­tain lev­el of train­ing. She said there have been im­prove­ments in cer­tain ar­eas but ad­mit­ted the ser­vice is still, “not top-notch.”

Robin­son-Reg­is said at this time the min­istry is at­tempt­ing to clear the bag log of cas­es while al­so mak­ing sure that the qual­i­ty of ser­vice is im­proved.

She took the time to com­mend the of­fi­cers “who have been work­ing dili­gent­ly and who have been car­ing for the vul­ner­a­ble” in the so­ci­ety.

Reporter: Chester Sambrano