Persaud puts Ally in hot seat over provisions for ex-sugar workers

Dr. Vindhya Persaud

Social Protection Minister Amna Ally on Thursday said that a “request of assistance” is a prerequisite for funding of projects under the government’s Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) Initiative.

Ally was at the time responding to questions on the ministry’s provisions for alternative employment for severed sugar workers under the SLED Initiative.

The questions came from PPP/C Member of Parliament Dr. Vindhya Persaud, who asked whether any proposals or initiatives were under consideration for alternative livelihoods for sugar workers.

Amna Ally

Ally, in response, began by highlighting the objectives of the programme, which include financing entrepreneurial ventures and building the skills of community members, and then noted that any projects funded are provided for after the ministry receives a “request of assistance” from members of community-based projects. Persaud, pressing on, asked what portion of the finances allocated to SLED’s initiatives in the year 2018 to 2019 will go toward the affected sugar communities.

Ally noted that there is “no predetermined amount identified for specific communities” and said that programme funding is based on budgetary proposals.

“Mr Speaker, I am clearly getting the sense that there is nothing allocated to an industry that is paralysed,” Persaud stated, before going on to question whether anyone who puts in a request will be able to access funds from SLED or whether there is an internal process. If the latter system was in place, Persaud was eager to know by who it was managed and how the monies were disbursed.

“I clearly said that these projects, once requests are made and they are considered, funding will be disbursed,” said Ally.

“Mister speaker, I think the minister keeps missing my point because she is not relating to the questions I’m asking,” Persaud countered, before asking about a timeline for the implementation of SLED initiatives for affected communities and why the thousands of sugar workers were not initially considered.

Ally said that as with any annual budgetary allocation, implementation is done during the calendar year of the approved budget, and added that “sugar workers is one aspect of the population.”

But Persaud, in defence of the thousands who were laid off, questioned how they would benefit if they were unaware of the avenues available to them.

Minister Ally pointed out that she had highlighted the objectives of the programme in her initial response. “I maintain that, sir,” she directed to the Speaker.

The government had been strongly criticised for allowing the severing of close to 5,000 GuySuCo workers without having options in place for them or evaluating the social impact of the job losses on their communities. It had also been pilloried on its unpreparedness to pay severance immediately to all the workers. Of the 4,763 severed workers, 1,851 are from the Skeldon Estate, 1,181 from Rose Hall, 1,480 from the East Demerara Estate and 251 from Wales.

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