By Julien Neaves
Trinidad- Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday continued to defend the polarising $500 babycare grant for underprivileged single mothers and announced that it would be applicable to single fathers as well.
She also said that she saw nothing wrong with giving “goodies” to the poor and underprivileged to “win friends”.
She was contributing to debate in the Lower House yesterday on the 2014/2015 Budget at the Parliament building, Port-of-Spain.
Persad-Bissessar said she could not believe the “cry and waling and gnashing of teeth” over the babycare grant. She noted many people who commented on the grant do not fall in the income bracket but underprivileged mothers have said it will help them. She said if that was about an election and winning votes then she was “proud”.
She reiterated that the statements that women would have a baby to get $500 for a year was “insulting”. She noted a number of people have come forward asking to assist with the women in the grant but many of the services are already offered such as the adolescent mothers programme through the Child Welfare League and Servol’s parenting programme, which received an increased subvention of 12 percent. She told the Parliament single fathers will also have access to the grant.
Responding to questions from reporters at the adjournment of the House about the expansion of the Baby Care Grant to single fathers, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said, “ I think it is a parent issue.”
“I mean if a mother has a small child that she can’t cope with, it is the same as if a father has that child but it will be interesting to see who will qualify,” he added.
In her presentation Persad-Bissessar noted Opposition Whip Marlene McDonald had said the Budget was about “winning friends” and was an “election budget”.
Persad-Bissessar commented, “So what’s wrong with winning friends? Are we in the business of making enemies?”
She said “every budget” was an election budget because through elections an administration comes to power, and questioned what was wrong with an election budget.
“Having been elected by the people we made promises in our conversations which are promises which we are seeking to deliver and to keep. And if it is then that you say these goodies are in effect to give to people to win friends then I say nothing is wrong with that. And if you call that a shame then I stand, and we stand, so accused to help the poor, (and) to help the underprivileged,” she said.
She noted the difference with her Government is that they have also been people-centred, and interested in people-centred development and not just concrete and steel and “mega-buildings”.
She listed the schools built by this administration, the San Fernando Teaching Hospital, the Children’s Hospital in Couva that was under- way and the planned hospitals in Point Fortin and Arima.
She said as she attends the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week they will look at the Millennium Development Goals and noted this country has already surpassed some of them: universal primary and secondary education; gender parity in education; and tertiary level participation at 65.2 percent. She said the country was also on track for universal Early Childhood Care and Education by 2015.
Here’s the application of logic and fairness from the Caribbean, where in my own experience there has been a very ‘macho’ type of approach towards fatherhood, and single dads are a rarity. I hope this reflects a shift away from the sexist attitudes that prevailed for so long, and that ‘real men’. Be they poor and single fathers, need to be there for their children. Bravo! Here’s to people before politics!