PLP criticizes govt for ‘abandoning’ social program

Members of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) yesterday railed against the Minnis administration’s decision to “abandon” the Renewing, Inspiring, Sustaining and Empowering (RISE) social services program, labeling it “a missed opportunity”.

The comments come on the heels of an Inter-American Development Bank report which states the project was canceled after US$5,373,723.91 was “fully disbursed”.

“What has happened to this program, and by extension our people, is nothing less than tragic – a missed opportunity by ‘the people’s time’ government to do the right thing for the people,” said former Minister of Social Services Melanie Griffin during a press conference at Gambier House.

“When asked repeatedly about the continuation of the program, the response of the then minister was always that the program was full of problems and was terminated by the IDB.”

Touting the program’s intention to “break the cycle of poverty in The Bahamas”, among other initiatives, Griffin said: “I do not believe the effort was ever made to understand the program and its value to the country.”

Griffin was the minister who initiated the program in 2012, when the Christie administration entered into a $7.5 million loan contract with the Inter-American Development Bank for a five-year period commencing August 2012 and ending August 2017 to facilitate the trial of RISE.

Shortly after the Minnis administration came to power in 2017, the Ministry of Social Services issued a statement saying it was assessing the overall performance of the pilot program that birthed the ministry’s pre-paid automated card system and other initiatives to determine whether the program should be axed.

According to the IDB’s Social Safety Net Reform Program Project Completion Report: “The project was canceled after the change in policy direction based on the change in the political administration after the elections in May 2017. At the start of the project, there was consensus about the usefulness of the program.

“However, after the change in government, the program was assessed and found not to be in line with the current policy direction, which is why most of the outcomes, which depended on the government delivering transfers under the new rule, were not achieved.

“In August 2017 there was a partial cancelation of $4,386,276.09, which dropped the total approved amount to US$5,373,723.91, which was fully disbursed.

“While many of the tools developed with IDB financing were developed and implemented…the fact that the project was canceled before any transfers could take place meant that most of the results linked to the transfers were never achieved.”

Yesterday, Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin said, “The recently released IDB report reveals that this FNM administration abandoned the project at great cost to the Bahamian people, in excess of $5 million without just cause and, even worse, with no discernible plan in its stead to combat these serious issues which were disclosed in that report affecting our children in abject poverty conditions.”

She added, “Instead, they cut back on social assistance including school uniform assistance, people were redirected from various centers to join the food lines of non-governmental organizations.

“The policies of the Minnis administration have actually exacerbated conditions including levying a 60 percent increase in consumer tax, leading to a record-high cost of living without a robust cushion for those already vulnerable and suffering.

“They abandoned the test program that had been successfully tested in other countries to implement what I can only call this brutal approach. To date, the national budget and policy approaches, relatively speaking, show a greater commitment to ministerial travel than seriously alleviating human suffering.”

While admitting that the program “was met with some administrative difficulty”, Hanna-Martin claimed yesterday that “these were all issues that could have easily been addressed and corrected”.

“Serious policy initiatives should not be likely uprooted, especially when there is no plan to replace it and especially when we’re talking about our children,” she said.

Meanwhile, Griffin also slammed the current administration for its handling of the pre-paid cards which were introduced under the program, claiming that “hundreds” are experiencing challenges with the same.

“The prepaid card, we all are aware of that now, it brought a whole new landscape to The Bahamas where the dignity of clients could be preserved,” Griffin said yesterday.

“Not only that; they no longer had to go every end of month to get food coupons, where there were usually long lines. And that card was in place for three years.

“At the end of the three year period – you would’ve heard the minister in the house saying 1,000 people hadn’t collected their card. I think that’s the figure he used – and they were calling them to come and get it.

“…But many of the cards expired and they were not readily renewed. Some people just the other day, even today on my way here, I was talking to somebody – they said that a card was taken from an elderly lady and she hasn’t been able to get it back yet.

“We have hundreds of cases like that, I daresay, hundreds of cases like that.”

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