Though Minister of Education Priya Manickchand has deemed the ‘Because We Care’ cash grant programme a success, she believes that much more could have been done to grapple with the numerous challenges which arose.
Manickchand made the proclamation at a press conference yesterday to update the public on the ministry’s year and further said that implementation had been the biggest issue when it came to the distribution of the $10,000 vouchers.
“We tried very hard on this programme to be as open and as transparent as we possibly could be,” Manickchand said. She went on, “We ran what we thought was an incredibly successful programme; there is very little that we can say we are unhappy with.”
According to the minister, as of December 8, 135,969 vouchers were issued to parents across the country. This number is still growing as 4 more areas are expected to be completed by today’s end. In contrast, about 15,000 officials were tasked with assisting the ministry in its distributions. However, while some were enthusiastic to do their job effectively, others were “lazy” or simply did not care, Manickchand said.
The ministry faced other issues, including the limited amount of encashment areas for parents along with non-submission of names and inaccurate data.
The programme spread out across the country from October 11 to mid-December and Manickchand noted that there had been reports that the distribution had been chaotic and confusing. However, she denied this, saying that the long lines gave the impression of chaos when in fact the distribution had been under control.
“I don’t think there was confusion as much as long lines,” Manickchand said. She noted that these long lines were caused by the limited amount of encashment points. However, she added, the ministry was willing to expand to other businesses besides Western Union.
“There is no monopoly here by any person but of course to expand means we have to find willing persons,” Manickchand said.
She explained that a number of options had been approached but in many cases businesses had not been willing or the processes had been too tedious, particularly in the banks. Post offices had also been approached but security concerns had been raised. The majority of parents, she added, had been enthusiastic about cashing their vouchers at Western Union outlets.
“We did what people wanted,” the minister said. She continued, “We have seen things we can do better…it was easy for a programme this big to go south on us.”
Out of $2 billion allocated for the ministry’s cash grants, Manickchand stated that $1.68 billion has already been expended. According to a ministry official, all unused funds will be returned to the consolidated fund after an audit has been conducted.
When asked whether the ministry plans on continuing its cash grant programme next year, Manickchand promised, “this programme will continue and it is going to get better.”
Despite the numerous challenges faced, Manickchand said, the cash grant had the benefit of bringing truants back into the education system. “We saw children who were out of school coming back to school in September because this programme was going to happen.” However, she noted, simply returning was not enough.
“What we have to do in the education system is keep them in school. We have to make sure we don’t waste this opportunity that was handed to us to get these kids back into school. So, coming into school they were welcomed with open arms but we have to make sure every single class maintains a register where they are conscious of every single child, especially those who are out of school but came back in for this programme.”
When questioned by Stabroek News whether the ministry will review this year’s policy that the cash grants would not be distributed based on attendance, Manickchand stated that a review is a possible. “We’ve thought about it; I’d like to do it,” she said.
She explained that many parents had indicated during consultations that the cash grants should indeed be based on attendance and not simply registration. “It might be something we want to do; we will examine it and see if that would work,” the minister added.