Parliamentary committee probes ‘rough’ treatment of public assistance applicants

Incapacitated applicants should be visited by Board members of that area, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, Trevor Thomas told the Parliamen-tary Sectoral Committee on Social Services on Friday. “We are very clear with this,” he said, while promising action.

Thomas appeared before the Committee at Parliament Office and concerns about old age pensions and the public assistance programme were raised by members of the Committee. Chairperson of the Committee Indra Chandarpal said that based on concerns raised by the public, they “thought it fit” to invite Thomas before the Committee. One of the concerns was the Board of Guardians not playing their role adequately.

The Board of Guardians is primarily concerned with the public assistance programme. There are some issues in Region Seven, where harsh terrain makes travelling difficult and there are also issues with communication in hinterland areas, said Thomas in preliminary remarks.

Chandarpal said she found it difficult to believe that the physically challenged are required to appear before the Board of Guardians, saying these persons should be visited. She urged that Guardians be guided on how to treat these persons. Thomas said the Ministry has made it clear that Board members visit those physically challenged applicants.

He pointed out that not because a person is physically incapacitated they automatically qualify for public assistance. It depends on how their lives are affected, he said.

PPP Committee Member, Philomena Sahoye-Shury said that in a particular region, some Guardians have been treating persons “very rough.”

She did not reveal the region. “You cannot treat our people this way,” she said adding that “one of these days” she will reveal the region. Sahoye-Shury said she has received complaints from residents. “I have to talk to them (so) that they don’t go public,” she said.

Meanwhile, PNCR Committee member Amna Ally queried the selection procedures for the Guardians and was told they were appointed by Cabinet after nominations by the Ministry who consults with the Regions.

Chandarpal also raised the issue of “volunteers” who receive money to help people. There is nothing in the statute that calls for volunteers, she said. With regards to Guyanese living overseas and their pensions, she asked that consideration be given to those who go overseas to visit for a period of time but reside here. Thomas said it has been observed that some people lives overseas and return to collect pension books and then authorise someone to collect it. He said if a person has “green card status” but lives in Guyana for two consecutive years, they are eligible for old age pension. The Ministry verifies information supplied by asking that the passport be brought in or contacting the Immigration Department.

PNCR Member Volda Lawrence asked whether information on various officers in regions is supplied to the general public, whether lists of these persons are posted publicly. She urged that this be done. She also questioned how the Ministry deals with queries and to where redress can be sought if someone feels that a member of the Board or the Board are not working in the best interest of the community. Thomas agreed that lists of officers can be posted at strategic locations. He said while the Ministry cannot dictate what the Board does, if a member of the public feels aggrieved that person can apply to the Director or the Minister.

With regard to public information, Chandarpal suggested a radio or television programme or a section in a newspaper. With regard to issues about post offices having money to pay the pensioners, Thomas said this is an area they are constantly working to improve.

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