Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, Clarence Rambharat in the Senate yesterday.

Government has no data to substantiate claims that there’s severe hunger being experienced by many people.

That was the word from Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat in the Senate yesterday.

Rambharat went to “bat” for Government in replying to queries from UNC Senator Wade Mark on reports of “severe hunger” being experienced by many citizens and long lines for food hampers. It was an indirect reference to recent reports about long lines of people seeking help from Living Waters facility.

Rambharat, said it was recognised this is a very difficult time for people.

He said Government put certain measures in place through the Social Development Ministry, adding, “But there’s absolutely nothing to suggest there’s severe hunger in T&T.”

He listed measures offered including temporary food support for students in the School Feeding programme benefitting 20,500 families. He said all 41 MPs were each allocated 500 foodcards to give to students’ parents or guardian.

“Close to 20,000 cards were delivered to MPs on both sides to give families,” he said also noting food support-top ups.

When Mark pressed on why so many were lining up outside Living Waters and being turned away, Rambharat said, up to now 278,000 people have received support from Social Development.

He said he’s also visited Namdevco Packing house where Government’s organising a market voucher worth $250 involving a vegetable, meat and fruit package of that value.

Rambharat called Mark’s attention to numbers of Venezuelans and others turning up at Living Waters and asked Mark to check if he’d heard “English or Spanish.”

He said Living Waters may have had difficulty in coping. But he said he felt that 278,000 people getting assistance was “…a significant amount.”

On whether Government would facilitate requests for business to reopen on a phased basis, Trade minister Paula Gopee-Scoon said the Prime Minister recently announced he’d give a decision after May 10. She said the COVID-19 threat is still real.

She said business representatives are involved with Government’s Business and Manufacturing team and also the recovery planning team.

Discussions have focused on reopening, manufacturing, retail/wholesale and distribution, “Talks are real and we have the business community’s support,” she added.

Mark received certain “chat” from Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein when Mark asked about Port-of-Spain Corporation’s purchase in 2018 of 209 water tanks for burgesses.

This cost $133,868.79.

Hosein said it was done to alleviate hardship, catering to over 209 families, “Decisions like this affect people. Once people are affected a councillor has a duty—where there are funds—to ensure they get satisfaction. Water was essential, children were affected… I applaud the Council’s decision.”

Mark asked why it occurred amidst Local Government elections.

Hosein replied, “Water is water, when you need it, it don’t have to be elections. I get water two times a week and I have to sacrifice. So whether is 2018, 2019 or elections or not—water’s needed for all.”

Mark asked if all corporations could do the same as the Port-of-Spain corporation.

Hosein said corporations—whether in Siparia, Princes Town or Diego Martin—had the right to make decisions to ensure their areas had water, masks or sanitiser.

“Some just don’t do it, but they have the authority. My desk is the cleanest one—everything comes to me and I sign off. No corporation could say I hold back anything from them…,” he said.