National Diversity minister: No election gimmick in $55M church grant

(Trinidad Guardian) Amidst rumours that government’s $55 million allocation to churches for the Christmas season is an election gimmick, Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) President Harrypersad Maharaj has defended the allocation, saying it is nothing new. Maharaj said the People’s Partnership government has been allocating money to churches every Christmas season since they came into power. “This is nothing new, all religious organisations have been receiving grants over the past years,” he said.

“I don’t understand how some people can say it (allocation) is because it’s an election year. Maybe it’s because the amount was announced in a lump sum.” Maharaj admitted that members of some organisations had spoken out, refusing the money. “I have dealt with people in the past where one or two members say they don’t want the money, but when other members of the same organisation gratefully accept the assistance.”

He said the money was used to put together hampers for the less fortunate in communities and also to upgrade churches. Contacted for comment, National Diversity minister Rodger Samuel said he preferred to focus on those who would take the allocation and put it to good use, rather than those who would decline it. “I am tremendously happy that many people will accept and that fills my heart with joy as opposed to those who will choose to decline,” he said.

He said a list of churches that declined the offer would only be available after all money had been allocated. However, he admitted that churches have refused the allocation in the past. “Last year I gave a cheque to a pastor and he refused. Even when I told him change it and give it to the poorest members of the congregation, he still refused, that was last year.” However, he did say if the gesture was intended as political, it would not have been done the way it was.

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