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