The Trinidad and Tobago Postal Corporation (TTPost) in Sangre Grande may have been robbed, but those who depend on the state for financial assistance say it is they who are paying for the crime.
It’s exactly how Zorida Bigu, 60, felt when she stood dumbfounded at the checkout counter with her differently-abled daughter yesterday.
“When I told my daughter to put her thumbprint,” Bigu said as the disability cheque is made out to her daughter, Maurissa, “the cashier told me they not taking it right now and I will have to go to the bank.”
On Monday, January 31, TTPost’s Sangre Grande office was robbed of 1,836 Government cheques valued at approximately $7 million.
A day later the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services instructed supermarkets not to honour any social welfare grants for the next two months.
Bigu did not get the memo.
“I didn’t know! I really didn’t know!”
But going back home was not an option for her and her 31-year-old daughter.
“She needed sanitary pads, adult diapers and we needed dishwashing liquid, bleach and cleaning supplies.”
Not to mention it was Maurissa’s birthday and she wanted her favourite meal of baked potatoes and calaloo.
With no money to hire another car to take them to the bank, they were forced to walk. Something that Maurissa struggles with having suffered a serious head injury.
“I had to let her walk and she started to feel tired and she had to stoop down in the road, rest and walk again.”
When they eventually got there, they faced another hurdle.
“You have to stand up there and make a line and Maurissa gets seizures so I worried all the time that she was going to faint.”
While the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services is encouraging welfare recipients to use the Direct Deposit method via their bank accounts, for Bigu that is not an option.
“I have to take care of Maurissa all day, she has the mind of a child, I cannot leave her by herself so I not working anywhere, I was told I can’t get a bank account.”
The frustrated Tobago Road, Enterprise mother said it is unfair that they have to suffer for something that happened in Sangre Grande.
“If something happen in Sangre Grande, why must it affect people quite here in central? They not supposed to punish other people for what happen in Grande.”
The Supermarket Association of Trinidad and Tobago (SATT) agrees.
Its President, Rajiv Diptee believes now is a time to show compassion for the elderly and vulnerable.
He explained to Guardian Media that the supermarkets know their welfare customers and have their own checks and balance system.
Diptee said the supermarkets operate as a “bank for the unbanked” where the customers can use their cheques at the register and whatever change is owed to them is given in cash. Cash that they can then use to buy the other things that they need.
The SATT is therefore urging the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services to find another solution to the problem.
“What we would have preferred is that the Ministry compiles a list of the cheques by numbers and deals with it at the level of the banks,” Diptee said.
Diptee said they are already getting complaints from those affected and he said their chief responsibility is to their customers.
“We feel as if they have been disenfranchised at this time.”
Guardian Media attempted to get a comment from Minister Donna Cox but she did not respond to our messages.
Her Ministry did send out a list of the serial numbers for the stolen cheques with a warning that they will not be honoured by the Central Bank or Treasury Division.