Food for the Poor probing if homes went to Jamaican political activists

(Jamaica Gleaner) Western Bureau:The international charity Food For The Poor is to probe claims that some of the houses it has constructed in southern Trelawny have gone to political activists who are not financially destitute and who were already homeowners.

Chairman of Food For The Poor, businessman Andrew Mahfood, told The Sunday Gleaner that he is surprised by the allegations which have emerged in recent weeks and will initiate an immediate investigation to determine the veracity of the claims.

“If it is discovered that there has been a breach, we will have to insist that a post-audit be done to ensure that the persons that apply for these houses are the ones that are actually in need of them,” said Mahfood.

“Where it is found that there was misrepresentation, the necessary action will be taken,” added Mahfood.

He was responding to claims that houses donated by Food For The Poor to the poorest people in the constituency have ended up in the hands of Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) activists, who are already homeowners.

MP DISTANCES HERSELF

The member of parliament for the area, the JLP’s Marisa Dalrymple Philibert, has denied knowledge of the distribution of the houses, but several questions are being asked after The Sunday Gleaner confirmed that at least one key member of her team in the constituency is one of the recipients of the houses.

“I have nothing to do with the distribution of theses houses,” Dalrymple Philibert told The Sunday Gleaner.

“This member of parliament has always acted with probity and transparency in my actions … . My interest is for the welfare of the people of my constituency.

“Requests may come to my office but all we do is send in the applications to Food For The Poor,” said Dalrymple Philibert.

“Food For The Poor does its own investigation to determine if the applicants qualify. I have no control over who gets or who does not get,” added the member of parliament.

Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of Food For The Poor, agreed that members of parliament do not decide who should get the houses; however, they have a key role in the process.

According to Johnson, in a partnership agreement signed with the Government last year, political representatives in the nation’s 63 constituencies are allowed to recommend 20 beneficiaries for housing solutions as part of a drive to build 1,260 units this year.

“Our policy is that the member of parliament, the Poor Relief Department, and a minister of religion can draw our attention to a need,” Johnson told The Sunday Gleaner.

“We get feedback from various individuals in the community, and we normally work along with these recommendations after the needs are assessed.”

LINGERING QUESTIONS

But persons in southern Trelawny are not satisfied that politics did not play a part in the selection process.

They charge that a popular political activist and businesswoman, who is a major player in the farming sector in the parish, is among the recipients of the 102 houses recently distributed in the constituency, while senior citizen Vivian ‘Caveman’ Smalling, who lives in squalor, is still awaiting a Food For The Poor house that was promised to him three years ago.

When The Sunday Gleaner visited the constituency last week, the 63-year-old Smalling, who earned the nickname Caveman after living in a cave for several years before he was rescued by a kind-hearted resident, was still hopeful that ‘Mama D’ (Dalrymple Philibert) would deliver the house promised to him.

“I am waiting on Mama D,” said Smalling, who was once a farmer in his early life and whose only known relative is a blind sister living in the Falmouth Infirmary.

“She (Dalrymple Philibert) said she would give it to me … so I am waiting,” said Smalling.

While he waits, other residents in the area are questioning the seeming lack of transparency in the distribution of the houses.

“Some persons who have Food For The Poor houses are not in need of them,” charged a resident, who walked through the community with the Sunday Gleaner team, pointing out the homes of persons, who allegedly received Food For The Poor houses although they were already homeowners.

“Look at this house,” the woman said, pointing to one of the Food For The Poor houses. “It is owned by a businesswoman, who works as an indoor agent during elections. She already owns a home so she is renting out this one … . This is so wicked … knowing that the persons who really need the houses did not get them,” the woman claimed.

However, our news team was unable to confirm that claim or the political party the homeowner allegedly works for as an indoor agent.

Dalrymple Philibert is of the view that the controversy is being stirred by several of her detractors, including independent councillor for the Lorrimers division in the constituency, businessman Paul Patmore.

“I got a report out of the TPC (Trelawny Parish Council) that Councillor Patmore is asking for the distribution to be discontinued because he feels that I am trying to create a garrison in the area,” said Dalrymple Philibert.

“But what I do know is that the selection process of Food For The Poor is very meticulous and I have no doubt that the recipients of houses in South Trelawny are people who are poor.

“Some might get a start and improve on their houses, but that does not mean they are not poor,” she added.

UNAPOLOGETIC

However, in defending his call for the distribution of the houses to be suspended, Patmore was unapologetic in registering his disgust with the situation.

“I, Paul Patmore, will discredit any form of corruption, whether it involves a politician, police or an ordinary citizen,” said the independent councillor.

“I have no problem with an effort to provide housing solutions for our people, but the question must be asked: Why are most of the beneficiaries under the age of 30, while we have senior citizens with nowhere to live?”

Patmore also questioned why most of those who benefited from the Food For The Poor houses are supporters of one political party. However, he did not provide any information to back that charge.

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