Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
Colin Fagan, the member of parliament (MP) for South East St Catherine, has called for a comprehensive overhaul of the system used by the State to determine who qualifies for welfare benefits.
Fagan charged that many people in genuine need, especially in his constituency, were being denied help because of the inadequacy of method and criteria used to gauge their needs.
In fact, Fagan went on to accuse the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) of actively discriminating against Portmore, St Catherine.
"The truth is that JSIF and agencies like those not spending money in Portmore because they see Portmore as a middle-class community. They believe that Portmore is not deserving and sometimes you hear [about] millions of dollars spending in some constituencies - JSIF putting in roads and so - and you might even say to yourself, 'Then my member of parliament mussi wutless. How him can't get none a them money deh fi spend?'"
Fagan was speaking during a recent luncheon to honour the top Grade Six Achievement Test students in his constituency. He presented scholarships and back-to-school vouchers to 10 children and used the occasion to offer a general breakdown of his Constituency Development Fund.
Senior citizens suffering
The luncheon, the third hosted by the MP, was held at the Ken's Wildflower Restaurant where he pointed out that the growing demands for social housing and requests from many senior citizens meant that at times he had to dip into his own pocket to help.
Fagan said many of the officers employed to the social agencies were out of touch with the economic realities of the people they were supposed to be serving.
"We have to be fighting hard to remind those agencies that when the people got their houses in Portmore, they were civil servants and they could afford the house at that time. Now they reach of age, they have bills now where, on the little pension, they can't really manage," he said.
"They say you must apply for PATH (Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education) but if the officer comes from the NIS (National Insurance Scheme) office and look at your house and see that you have television and fridge, you cannot benefit because they say that your position is not one that is deserving."
According to Fagan, he knew of many cases where, even with their combined pensions, many former civil servants were now living well below the standard enjoyed during their working life.
"Many of the people in Portmore, though they might be in a two-bedroom or three-bedroom, are really at a point where they can't manage. I know of many cases, but I can't tell you people's business. Many persons you see out there coming from homes in Edgewater, Waterford, Portsmouth, Westchester or Garveymeade really can't find the next dollar."