$10m to be borrowed to fix flaws in social services

By LAMECH JOHNSON Tribune Staff Reporter ljohnson@tribunemedia.net THE government is set to borrow $10 million from the Inter-American Development Bank to correct serious flaws in the Ministry of Social Services and its various assistance programmes for those living in poverty. The funds will launch the "Social Safety Net Reform Programme" which will support the government's efforts to reduce poverty and improve human capital development. According to Melanie Griffin, former Minister of Social Services, the deal was in the final stages of preparation under the former PLP administration. "That was started under the Christie administration. We began the process and it was in it the final stages as we had done the necessary research with the Inter-American Development Bank to bring about the reform that the department needed," she said. According to the project's profile, the Ministry of Labour and Social Development funds several aid initiatives, including "food assistance, financial assistance, school uniform and footwear, the National Lunch Programme, disability allowance and medical card assistance." In addition, the National Insurance Board provides non-contributory pension and assistance benefits for the elderly poor. However, research has revealed that a number of individuals benefiting from these programmes do not live under the poverty line. "According to the 2006 Household Expenditure Survey, only 42 per cent of beneficiaries of the Food Assistance Programme and 24 per cent of beneficiaries of the non-contributory pension are in the lowest 20 per cent of the population," an IDB report said. Through the Social Safety Net Reform Programme, these issues are expected to be corrected. While acknowledging the great benefits to be gained from the programme, Mrs Griffin said it was no surprise that the government decided to launch it at election time. "We were in the final stages of the project when our term in office ended in 2007. And I did follow up to see what was being done with the programme. As a matter of fact, records of the House of Assembly reflect that I asked the government what was being done with the programme. "The prime minister at the time didn't know about it but he promised to get to the bottom of it. And obviously he now decided to bring it back," she said. The current Minister of Social Development, Loretta Butler-Turner, was not available for comment.


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