The T&T Postal Corporation (TTPost) was forced to shut the doors at its lower St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain branch, after scores of people, mostly elderly citizens, turned up seeking their pension cheques and grants yesterday.
The mass gathering forced a police presence in a bid to get the crowd to social distance, in keeping with public health regulations.
It was one of several large turnouts of people at various places across the country, one day after a 19-hour lockdown on the Indian Arrival Day holiday Monday.
There were also large gatherings at supermarkets and at First Citizens on High Street, San Fernando, where pensioners also gathered from as early as 8 am to cash cheques, only to be told that the bank would open at 10 am.
Most of them were forced to sit on the pavement as they waited for the bank to open.
Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales has promised to reach out to Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox to devise a more efficient method of payment to pensioners and others who depend on monthly state grants in a bid to circumvent overcrowding and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Gonzales’s promise came shortly after the TTPost incident.
Senior Citizens’ Pension as well as Disability and Public Assistance Grants are usually paid on the first of every month.
Even though some payments are effected electronically, those without a bank account are forced to line up once monthly to collect their cheques before heading to the banks.
Richard Castillo, of Dundonald Street, Port-of-Spain, said he and several others had been out from as early as 7 am hoping to get their monthly assistance and food card allocations.
He said, “Some of us were here on Friday and were told to come back Tuesday but it have no kind of organising, so you find people were very disobedient. They were not distancing themselves and so forth.”
Revealing that they had been told to return at 1 pm yesterday as TTPost staff were in the process of sorting cheques, Castillo said, “It have some people who don’t have passage. It have some people who don’t have food because it is since Friday that these cheques were supposed to be issued.”
Asked to recommend what should be put in place to regulate both the payment of cheques and crowd control, he suggested, “They should have more officers here distancing the people because these people are very disobedient.”
He said their behaviour could be rationalised by the fact that, “There are plenty hungry families waiting on this sort of income.”
Mother of six Roxanne Ramiah, of East Dry River, Port-of-Spain, complained of the system as she said, “As the woman come out to hand you something, all of them bungling up again.”
Present in the line by 6 am yesterday, Ramiah said she usually collects both her husband’s and mute brother’s social welfare and disability cheques respectively which “comes in handy for we to organise to buy thing to last we.”
Lamenting she had no choice but to wait it out as she had nothing in her house to prepare for her children to eat yesterday, Ramiah said she could not hustle due to the COVID-19 virus and would have to return today as the authorities had instructed.
She too recommended, “Put some lines on the pavement and let everybody stay on their spot instead of the police coming every minute to tell people social distance.”
Both Castillo and Ramiah said this was a usual monthly occurrence but it was the first time that TTPost had halted payments and ordered persons to return the next day.
Outside First Citizens on High Street, San Fernando and Republic Bank in Penal—orderly lines comprised of both young and old persons could be seen for blocks.
With both the banks’ security guards and TTPS officers ensuring strict adherence to the regulations, people with walking sticks and others in wheelchairs lined pavements and roadways in the hot sun hoping to get in before closing time.
For the lucky ones who managed to cash their long-awaited cheques, lines were also seen outside supermarkets as mainly elderly persons flocked to stock up on essential supplies to last them for the next month.
Commenting on the situation last evening, Minister Gonzales said this monthly convergence cannot continue, especially during the pandemic.
TTPost which falls under Gonzales’s purview dispenses senior citizens’ pension, disability and public assistance grants usually prepared by the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services.
Regarding the forced closure, Gonzales said, “Those who were standing in the line were not adhering to the public health restrictions. TTPost officials tried their best to get people to conform but they refused to conform to the guidelines.”
As a result, he said officials had contacted the TTPS to enforce law and order but that pleas for the crowd to social distance, had gone in vain as they refused to cooperate.
“So the police advised TTPost to shut down operations to disperse the crowd.”
Gonzales said TTPost will reopen its doors today to once again distribute the cheques, and he is hoping that what happened yesterday is not repeated.
“I am pleading with people to comply with the regulations. There is no need to rush and stand close to each other,” he advised.
Gonzales admitted that the majority of people who line up at TTPost’s offices for collection of cheques are the elderly.
He said while, “They have the option of obtaining their pensions through direct deposit at the banks, some people just prefer the traditional way of collecting their cheques. It is difficult to break out the habit with old people.”