PORT-OF-SPAIN: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has denied suggestions that the TT$55 million (one TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) grant given to religious groups in Trinidad & Tobago was aimed at seeking their support ahead of the 2015 general elections.
“The Minister of Finance and the Minister of Energy continue to monitor what is happening with the energy prices thus far, there is no cause for panic and we are of the respectful view, based on what the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Finance have said we can afford to treat the most vulnerable, the most needy at Christmas time, which I think is one of the most blessed times for the year,” she said as she handed out toys at St. Augustine Girls’ High School, east of Port-of-Spain, on Sunday.
Persad-Bissessar said the country’s religious institutions have an important role to play in the fight against crime and other ills in society and the grant was a gesture of goodwill.
“I heard someone say it was an attempt to buy out the Christians, I think that that is an insult to the Christian community of Trinidad & Tobago because I would hate to think that anyone in the Christian community could be bought out.
“Those who do not wish to accept the grant, they are free not to accept it, it is a democratic country, but I was very upset when they said it was an attempt to buy out the Christians. I do not think any Christian, any Hindu, any Muslim or any other one in this country can be bought out.
“We feel the churches have a very important role to play for our country in the national community, for the better society of Trinidad and Tobago, I really think so, therefore that is why we give the support to all the religions, not just the Christian community,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar said there would always be critics of her administration, recalling the comments that followed her decision to give out hampers and toys at Christmas.
“I am very proud and happy my government has taken the step,” she said. “I do not think members of Parliament will set up groups that are non-existent, or will not be accountable, but we will have a system in place to ensure grants are disbursed appropriately and for the accountability everyone will have to sign, the MPs will recommend and we will go forward. I have no regrets from this particular step that we have taken.”
The four-party coalition People’s Partnership, which won 29 seats in the May 2010 general election, will face a challenge from the main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM), the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) and the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) when the elections are called next year.