Saturday Express Editorial

EARLIER this week, the Minister of Housing officiated at a ceremony organised by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) in which 500 lucky would-be homeowners stood to benefit from a random television draw for the allocation of State housing. This was the expected end of the line for at least those persons, some of whom would have submitted applications since who knows how long ago.

As it turns out, one of those lucky persons is someone who is reportedly a member of a State board, with questions arising as to her entitlement for such a privilege. A larger issue surrounding this event, however, was the length of time which elapsed between when those applications were made and the live TV draw on Tuesday.

In too many cases which have been prosecuted in the public over decades dating back to the predecessor organisation to the HDC, the National Housing Authority, applications for suitable government housing have been a bone of contention. There had been an expectation that by its change of name and a concomitant improvement in operational efficiency, the HDC would have assumed as part of its founding mandate swifter delivery in its applications and qualifying process.

This endemic issue of tardy delivery has also emerged as a significant irritant in the Government’s best efforts to minimise the impact on families of the Covid-19 restrictions in force since late March, and which began to be eased in the last few weeks.

More than a week ago, the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services announced that it had distributed more than 28,000 salary relief grants.

On two fronts this week, the Prime Minister addressed this conflict between the best intentions of his Government and the sentiments of those in the receiving line. During an interview on Tobago Channel 5 on Tuesday morning, Dr Rowley was asked to respond to reports on the island that persons were not getting salary grants. “That’s not true,” he told the interviewer. “The system is working, albeit not fast enough, but it is not correct to say nobody is receiving grants.”

The issue the Government says it faces is the need to check and double check many of the claims as they come in. In Tobago alone, 2,765 citizens had received Covid-19 relief grants, he said.

On a related matter, the Prime Minister said it was “irritating” to hear complaints from the island’s Hotel and Tourism Association that a $50 million “stimulus package” was insufficient for their needs. “It’s irritating where you come up ever so often trying to help people and the only reaction you get from them is ingratitude,” he said.

In another complaint since the Tobago interview, one letter writer questioned operations at the National Insurance Board, with applicants getting no response to their queries. In other cases, there has not yet even been acknowledgement of applications for salary grants submitted at the beginning of that initiative.

This is a matter we have addressed here before, but it continues to be one that bedevils the administration in its attempts to do right by citizens with obviously urgent needs.

If nothing else, Covid-19 points up the failures of administration that have long been crying out for corrective attention.

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