While Minister of Community Development, Culture and Arts Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly distanced herself from the planning of Tuesday’s grant distribution ceremony, National Commission for Self Help CEO Elroy Julien sees nothing wrong with People’s National Movement (PNM) candidates giving out the vouchers. “I have seen no conflict of interest. I look at the persons who received the grants as the legitimate persons wanting the grants. As a result of that, we gave them the grants,” Julien told reporters. Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat, the candidate for Chaguanas East; former government senator Daniel Dookie, Pointe-a-Pierre; Sharon Archie, Caroni East and Reyad Ali, Caroni Central were all invited on stage at the San Fernando City Hall auditorium to hand out home repair and home improvement grants Tuesday.
At the ceremony, the commission distributed 153 of 500 home grants amounting to $2.5 million. In Rambharat and Dookie’s cases, there were calls for recipients of the Chaguanas East and Pointe-a-Pierre constituencies to ready themselves to collect vouchers before the candidates went on stage.
All four guests are contesting seats that were recently held by the United National Congress (UNC). San Fernando East candidate Brian Manning and Oropouche East candidate Clifford Rambharose also attended.
The distribution followed a greeting from San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello, who said if the ceremony had anything to do with the elections, he would have Manning and San Fernando West candidate Faris Al-Rawi at his side. Regrello added that recipients were also from constituencies that were represented by the UNC.
Speaking to reporters, Gadsby-Dolly said she was not involved and did not know who planned the programme. She said that as the line minister, the Commission invited her.Asked whether she saw the candidates’ involvement as a conflict of interest or can create a perception that the government used State resources for campaigning, she said that in Rambharat and Dookie’s case, government officials are usually invited to distribute items.
Reminded that Dookie’s tenure as a senator ended when Parliament dissolved, Gadsby-Dolly said he recently held the position and still gets the respect.
“I would not have known who was going to come, but I would imagine they would have expressed an interest. Maybe they heard in their communities that grants were going to be given out. I imagine they would have reached out to Self Help, asking to be able to attend. I mean, I have attended Self Help functions, site visits with UNC councillors, PNM councillors, UNC MPs and PNM MPs. I think it is just an opportunity when people hear that these things are happening, they want to be a part of it. “I do not put any particular importance to them being here. What I think is more important is the grants that are actually being given out,” Gadsby-Dolly said.
She referred questions about the ceremony’s planning to Julien, whom she had a short conversation with before he presented himself for media questions.
Julien said the commission was solely responsible for planning the event. He said two of the candidates, like any MP, specifically asked for those grants for constituents they seek to represent. As a result, the commission invited them to the function.
“As you noticed, just those persons (candidate) we have used because they asked. As you noticed, this is a Self Help function, and the board members and I are the ones who presented the grants to all the other persons.” “I have just indicated that those persons (candidates) who went up there, they would have asked specifically for some assistance for those same persons (recipients). They were doing their walkabouts and so on and recognised those persons were in need. As a result of that, they brought it to our attention. Just like everybody else, we gave them the grants.”
He added: “When we looked at our database they (candidates) would have probably brought it to our attention. These are the persons in our areas that required the grants. When we look through our database, we recognised these are persons on our database. As a result of that, they would have been selected.”
He said recipients applied for the grants two to three months ago and the candidates “probably” met some of them on the campaign trail. He said it was only the PNM candidates who requested grants for constituents.