$3.2B cash grant initiative: Parents denounce APNU’s Coretta McDonald saying grant “wasting money”

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President of GTU Coretta McDonald

Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) General Secretary Coretta McDonald is coming in for major criticism having labelled Government’s $3.2 billion cash grant initiative for public school students, which is currently being distributed, as a “waste” of money.

McDonald, who is also an A Partnership For National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Member of Parliament (MP), appeared on an online programme, where she opined that the $19,000 cash grant and uniform voucher allowance to families across Guyana with school-age children was a waste of money from the country’s coffers.

“If you do that for every region across this country, you’ll understand how much monies. We’ll, we’ve already gotten the figure, $3.2 billion. If you do that for five years, check and see how much money this Government is wasting foolishly,” the Opposition member was quoted as saying.

The GTU official did not divulge her reasons for this position and efforts by Guyana Times to contact her proved futile.

As the Opposition Member of Parliament criticised the initiative, some teachers , along with parents, called her out publicly for her position. Several letter writers have already taken to the letter pages in the local newspapers to express dissatisfaction with the sentiments shared by McDonald.

GTU fees

In a letter to the editor, Randy Mangru, in calling out McDonald said that it was sad to know that according to observations, reports and complaints, the GTU has failed to properly represent its workers.

“The question is has the Union lived up to its objective?…the GTU has been collecting Union dues from teachers continuously, but let’s just focus on the past 15 months. What form of relief has the Union leadership/executives taken up since then? None! Did the Union bargain with the Government for a stimulus grant/bonus in the faith of “proper conditions of service and remuneration?” No! Did the Union bargain for hazard pay for those teachers who have had face-to-face interaction with Grades 10 and 11 in the midst of a pandemic, exposing themselves and their families to COVID-19? Was there any form of relief (hamper distribution) to teachers?”

The letter writer went on to say that simple arithmetic shows that the GTU has been collecting $700 monthly each from its membership, which is in excess of 8000 teachers.
“Monthly total dues collected by the Union would amount to $5,600,000 monthly. Calculating since the COVID-19 pandemic began [locally] which will total to 15 months, the Union would have collected a whopping total of $84,000,000 for the past 15 months. The question now is what has the Union leadership/executives done with the money collected in the past 15 months?” the letter writer asked.

The “Because We Care” cash grant initiative commenced in Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) on Wednesday. The initiative is expected to benefit some 172,000 students across Guyana.

On day two of the three-day exercise in the region, Education Minister Priya Manickchand said that there would be no discrimination as each child in the public school system would benefit.

“Whether you’re African, Chinese, Indo-Guyanese, Amerindian, Portuguese, mixed, you will leave here with your cash grant, because we’re not asking about your ethnicity. This morning, whether you are Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Rastafarian, nothing or Bahá?í, once your children are in school, you will leave here with the cash grant. We are here to give every single nursery, primary, secondary age child who’s in a public school, or applied to come to a public school, this grant,” the Minister is quoted as saying on Thursday.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Department of Public Information (DPI), a man confined to a wheelchair and struggling to provide for his three-year-old daughter, Vental Jainarine said he was thankful to the Government for the reintroduction of the cash grant programme. Jainarine said following a boat accident which resulted in the loss of his right leg four years ago, he has been relying on public assistance and his sister to support his wife and young child. This, he said, has been a struggle.

He told the DPI that the grant “means a lot” as it would assist in purchasing the necessary school supplies for his daughter.

Naomi Doonauth, a mother of four, said the last year has been challenging for her as the COVID-19 pandemic has made it hard for her husband, who is a labourer, to find work to support the household. She disclosed that many times, the two would make sacrifices to ensure their children’s needs were met.

She told the DPI that the money would go towards purchasing whatever materials her children needed. “Just like me, many parents will say thank God for this, because it has been such a hard time.”

This is not the first time McDonald has been called out for obstructing the current distribution exercise. Education Minister Manickchand had chided the MP one day prior after she took to social media encouraging head teachers and teachers not to be a part of the distribution.

In fact, McDonald, in her post, stated, “Headteachers, you were trained as an Educator not an Accounts Clerk! Distribution of cash to students/pupils is not your responsibility!”
In a social media post this week, Manickchand positioned that any person or political party which opposed assistance to a child was “bizarre”. She further stated that it was also bizarre that Guyana was forced to wait five months after the General and Regional Elections to have a legitimate Government.

“It is bizarre to me that any person or political party or any of their affiliates would object to Guyana’s families being assisted with $19,000 per child. But then it was bizarre too that Guyana was forced to wait five months after our election to have a legitimate Govt. The APNU/AFC just doesn’t do anything sensible, logical, or lawful. Reject them as they try to deny you this grant. We are here. And we will bring you this goodness,” the Minister said.
The $19,000 per child comprises the grant, which is valued at $15,000, and the school uniform and supplies voucher valued at $4000.

Government has committed to increasing the “Because We Care” cash grant incrementally each year until it reaches $50,000. The school uniform and supplies voucher was increased last year from $2000 to $4000, representing a 100 per cent increase.

The Education Ministry noted that the cash grant initiative “aims to serve each child before September 2021. This initiative of the Government is to assist families so that they can provide the necessary resources to their children so that they can not only remain in school but to also excel in their studies”.

Piloted back in 2014 under the previous People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration, the initiative was designed to assist parents with children in the public school system with some financial support, thereby raising the disposable income in households and increasing attendance rates.

It was scrapped in 2015 after the APNU/AFC Government took office. Last year, the new PPP/C Administration reintroduced the grant, raising it from $10,000 to $15,000 per child in addition to raising the uniform allowance from $2000 to $4000. [Guyana Times]