- 12 MAY 2016
Post Cabinet Briefing Summary – Thursday 12th May, 2016
The Minister of Public Administration and Communications, the Honourable Maxie Cuffie, hosted the Post Cabinet Press Briefing today (Thursday 12th May, 2016) at the Office of the Prime Minister, St. Clair, Port of Spain.
At the briefing the Minister of Works and Transport, the Honourable Fitzgerald Hinds, addressed calls by some citizens for increased speed limits. This follows on the heels of the employment of speed guns to detect and prosecute speed offenses. Minister Hinds emphasised that this matter cannot be dealt with flippantly as there are a number of scientific aspects to take into consideration, such as road design and construction, and it requires data collection and analysis.
Minister Hinds went on to say that the matter is constantly under review. In fact, engineers and traffic management staff at the Ministry of Works and Transport are expected to present a report on the matter in a week’s time. Prevailing speeds, traffic volumes as well as the presence of load bearing vehicles are among items to be considered.
The Minister also noted that an increased speed limit of 100 km/hr on the highways will be considered but emphasised the practice of maintaining a gap between the posted speed limit and the design speed of the road in order to safeguard the safety of the public. Additionally, Minister Hinds referred to a petition for increased speed limits. He said that he has not seen it on social media platforms nor has any opposing entity brought proposals to the Ministry of Works and Transport.
The Minister of Social Development and Family Services, the Honourable Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn, also addressed the issue of reported food card payment interruptions. She explained that in 2014, a decision was taken to switch to a biometric system so as to increase efficiency and eliminate leakages and irregularities.
The ministry decided that it would target those persons in receipt of the food card first, approximately 46,300 persons, and have these persons enrolled between the period of July 2014-July 2015. Only 33, 681 persons came forward. Subsequently, only 29, 681 were found to be still eligible for the receipt of the food card. These individuals include persons who may have died, migrated or persons who had passed the food card on to friends and family. This measure is estimated to save the Government cost leakages of 25 million dollars annually.
It was also recognised that 13,000 persons who are grant recipients did not respond to the Ministry’s various requests to them to come in. These individuals are facilitated at a cost of approximately 6.5 million dollars monthly – 78 million dollars annually – and would have been in receipt of a food card for over two years. During the mandatory review, which takes place every two years, the ministry decided to place a hold on the accounts of these persons who had not responded after additional attempts were made to contact them. This was done as an interim measure.
Should these individuals report to the ministry in the next 3 months, an assessment will be carried out and, if they are found eligible, they will continue to be recipients of the programme. Persons who do not report to the ministry will be removed from the system and, should they wish to gain access to the grant, will have to reapply.
Senator Franklin Khan, Minister of Rural Development and Local Government, also presented an update on the recently concluded local government reform consultation process.
Senator Khan reported that, following the consultations, the key areas of reform within the 14 Regional Corporations and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) include:
- The collection and retention of property tax
- Executive authority to be given to the municipal corporations similar to that of the THA.
NB: Municipal police will be employed to strengthen the police service.
- Increases in the areas of responsibility assigned to the municipal corporation. For example, they will be responsible for school repairs.
- Authorisation to approve simple plans as opposed to the current system which consists of going to the Town and Country Division
- The appointment of full time councillors
Senator Khan noted that a policy paper will be presented to Cabinet in one month’s time while Minister Stewart Young and his team will draft the legislative changes required to implement this major policy shift, mainly amendments to the Municipal Corporations Act and the Finance and Audit Act as it relates to the Municipal Corporations having the power to spend taxes on behalf of the Government.
Senator Franklin Khan will be piloting a paper in Parliament tomorrow (Friday 13th May 2016) on the draft of the Elections and Boundaries Commission, Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly Order (2016).
The motion tables the EBC’s report to the Parliament which recommended some boundary changes to the local government system.
The Minister noted that Local Government Elections are due on the 21st October, 2016 and up to 90 days thereafter. He also provided assurances that the local government elections will not be postponed saying that they will be held before the 21st January 2017.
Additionally, acting Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Honourable Colm Imbert, addressed the discovery of a programme called URP Social during the on-going audit of Government departments. Under that programme, approximately 300 persons were hired as Area Foremen and paid fortnightly salaries. The rationale behind this included the fact that they were the parents of children with cerebral palsy.
It was decided that this matter is to be handed over to Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, where it belongs, to be evaluated on a case by case basis. Minister Imbert noted that, as there is no evidence that these persons were at work, it was a strange arrangement. He highlighted that there was a big difference between a salary and a grant and that the arrangement is misplaced. The matter should rest with the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services so that deserving parties can receive the Disabilities Grant or the Public Assistance Grant.