PRIME Minister Andrew Holness on Monday refuted reports that residents in St Mary South Eastern communities now under quarantine were denied care packages because they were unable to present their tax registration number (TRN).
He addressed the issue at a virtual press briefing from Jamaica House, stating that while it is always difficult to capture everyone in the Government’s database when distributing food, he was informed after making checks that the reports were inaccurate.
“I’ve seen reports where it is being suggested that families are being deprived of food because they do not have a TRN. I personally enquired of this from the permanent secretary [in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security] and I was assured that that was not the case,” the prime minister said.
On Monday, the Jamaica Observer reported the plight of residents of Juno Pen in Enfield, one of four communities under quarantine, who said that they had not received care packages because they could not present their TRN to the team making the distribution.
“The packages were handed out yesterday but they were asking for TRN (tax registration numbers) and IDs (identification), but I couldn’t find my ID so I just went back home,” Juno Pen resident Sherene Williams told the Observer on Saturday.
She was making her way to the main road to ascertain whether or not her daughter, whom she said is an attorney-at-law, could deliver the food.
“I have three young kids and they lock us in so what are we going to do? What are we supposed to do?” the woman questioned.
At the press conference, Holness said that this was not the policy of the Government.
“However, the very persons who would raise the criticism about the request for a TRN or some form of identification upon receiving the package, those would be the very same persons who would readily criticise the Government for having no accountability for the distribution of the items that we give.
“I want it to be absolutely clear that whether it is the CARE programme, where we are giving out money, or through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security where we give out food, everything comes at a cost to the taxpayer. And, even after this period of crisis every cent that we spend will come under scrutiny by the same people who criticise us and, therefore, we must have in place systems and mechanisms to ensure that with the scarce resources that we have that we know… we don’t end up giving [one] household three, four, five times when there is another household that doesn’t get,” he said.
He argued that the Government is exercising caution by putting in place systems of accountability to ensure that there is a “paper trail” for assistance given during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[This is] to say [that] Mary Jane got and Tom Stroke got and we must see a signature and at least some form of ID (identification) to verify that signature. And, I would be very disappointed if it is that there is a suggestion that because this is a time of crisis we should dispense with accountability,” said Holness.
The prime minister said that it is during a time of crisis that the Government must ensure that it has responsive systems “but at the same time accountability”.
Another resident, Alvin Webster, told the Observer that the “disorganised” manner in which the packages — some containing cooking oil, sardines, corned beef, mackerel, rice, flour, and cornmeal, among other things — were distributed contributed to some individuals missing out.
He suggested that the team from the ministry work with residents to ensure that there is equal distribution.
“Without question, there were some deficiencies on the part of the Government in the execution but they were not fatal deficiencies. They were remedied very quickly and it was not as if the Government set out to deprive the people. Yes, we take the criticisms but I want the people of Dover, Enfield and Annotto Bay — a place that I have a special place in my heart for having worked there in many a campaign and have made very good friends there — [to know] that I am going to do everything within the scope of my authority to ensure that your needs are met. Don’t worry; we will move with double speed to ensure that we bring you your care packages and that you get through this quarantine safely and without any undue dislocation,” said Holness.
He said that before Monday 1,400 care packages were delivered to the quarantined communities. He also said that distribution of a further 2,000 would have begun on Tuesday.
More than 9,000 residents live in the affected communities.
In the meantime, the prime minister said that to obtain necessities (food, medical supplies, access to financial services or other essentials of life), persons may travel to the closest practicable location, where necessities can be obtained during the hours of 8:00 am to 4:00 am on Wednesday, May 13, 2020; Friday, May 15, 2020; Saturday, May 16, 2020; Monday, May 18, 2020; and Wednesday, May 20, 2020.
For the purpose of travel through Annotto Bay without stopping in the quarantine areas, this should be done on Friday, May 15; Monday, May 18; and Wednesday, May 20, 2020.
Pharmacies in a specified area may only operate on Wednesday, May 13; Friday, May 15; Monday, May 18 and Wednesday, May 20, 2020, between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, selling only prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
Supermarkets, corner shops, petroleum filling stations, banks or other financial institutions (as defined in the Banking Services Act), credit union business operated by societies registered under the Co-operative Societies Act, and any other place (other than a market) engaged in the distribution of food, medical supplies or sanitisation products, in a specified area, may operate only between the hours of 9:00 am and 3:00 pm on Wednesday, May 13; Friday, May 15; Monday, May 18; and Wednesday, May 20, 2020.
The stocking days will be Thursday, May 14; Sunday, May 17 and Tuesday, May 19 and the stocking time will be between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm.
Restaurants and cookshops in a specified area may provide takeout and delivery services between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm on Wednesday, May 13; Friday, May 15; Monday, May 18; and Wednesday, May 20, 2020, and shall not serve food to customers for consumption on the premises of the business; and all other businesses located in the quarantine area shall remain closed.
Markets shall remain closed.
– Additional reporting by JIS
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