An investigation has been launched into claims made by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Assemblyman for Providence/Mason Hall/ Moriah Sheldon Cunningham, that food cards were being illegally distributed in his area.
The revelation was made during a Tobago Channel Five programme on Monday.
Cunningham who has held the seat since 2012, is the Assistant Secretary in the Division of Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment, under the Secretary and Councillor Kwesi Des Vignes.
During the interview, he claimed that an official was distributing food cards to people in his constituency without the necessary documentation. He alleged that the official, who is also a member of the People’s National Movement (PNM), was using the cards as a means of gaining political mileage, in their bid to represent the area at the upcoming THA election in 2021.
“I understand there are persons who have interests in being ambitious enough to represent the area of Providence/Mason Hall/ Moriah, which I have no problem over, but please let us do the thing right. You can’t just be giving out cards to people without any documentation,” he said.
He urged residents to be careful when accepting the cards, especially when they had not gone through the proper process, which includes filling out an application form and signing a declaration document. He also sent a message to his colleagues in the party, stating if the matter was not taken seriously, there would be a lot of problems to address after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
“We do not want to do this thing ‘vykie vykie’ and at the end of it, we have a whole heap of problems to clean up, so I am urging persons who are just going out and handing out cards like that—I have heard about lots of complaints yesterday within Mason Hall and Moriah especially, that persons are walking around and just handing cards to them and just taking their names—please there is a process, there’s a form to fill out and when you receive the card, you have to sign for receiving it and a declaration, please. These are things that cause problems later on,” he said.
He said declaration forms had not been signed and the issue was reported to Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis.
“I hope this is dealt with quickly because at the end of the day we don’t want these things to come back to be a thorn in thistle later on in life, so I’m just urging that when we do these things, remember that we are doing it for helping persons and not for mileage,” he said.
In response to the allegations, Dennis confirmed that he was aware of the situation and said Cunningham is expected to provide him with information on the matter.
“I have reached out to him for specific information and specific facts to support those allegations, that was earlier today, so I am giving him some time to provide me with the information. Until then I can take no action against anybody without the required proof, without the required evidence,” he said.
Dennis said, he spoke with Deputy Chief Secretary and Secretary for Finance and the Economy Joel Jack, whose division is responsible for the disbursement of the THA Emergency food cards, and he said he was given the assurance that the process continues to be transparent.
“I also had some discussions with the Secretary of Finance who has given me the assurance that the process continues to be above board and no food cards have left that division without the supporting documentation of an application form,” he said.
Dennis said a press release would be issued by the Division of Finance and the Economy to remind Tobagonians of the process.
Last week the Chief Secretary Tracy Davidson-Celestine, who is also the THA’s Secretary of Health, Wellness and Family Development, announced an investigation into incidents of fraud with the application and disbursement of social assistance grants in Tobago.