ON the first-year anniversary since appointment in office, Ministers Priya Manickchand, Vindya Vasini Persaud, and Sonia Pariag of the Ministries of Education, Human Services and Social Security, and Public Services (Administration) respectively, among other ministers, received high praises for their work ethic and performance-based on findings of a survey I conducted late July. Respondents in the poll indicate that human resources, social protection, and educational training are among the most important issues facing the nation. The government has increased social relief assistance and access to education. The public expressed its gratitude to the President and the government for their allocation of large amounts of resources to education and social security. The public assistance, scholarships, and educational grants have boosted the approval ratings of the President, government, and responsible ministers.
The government has been facing serious challenges in the fields of education, employment, and loss of earnings as a result of COVID. There was a serious interruption or loss of earnings as a result of job termination during the coalition, the five months election saga, ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and recent floods. Low-income families could not afford to pay tuition for tertiary education for dependents. Over 10,000 lost their jobs during the coalition administration before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Thousands more lost their income during the pandemic as businesses closed. Schools were also shuttered from April 2020 till now except for fourth and fifth forms in 2021, affecting delivery of traditional education. Colleges were also closed. Education was provided virtually or through long distance. The government responded appropriately with financial relief to households and educational grants for deserving college students. There was social assistance for many who were severely affected by a loss of income from the pandemic and the floods.
The government offered a $25K stimulus per household and other forms of social assistance as well as food hampers and anti-COVID protective equipment to help the underprivileged. Thousands of scholarships were handed out to deserving students. The Education Ministry received the second largest chunk of the budgets of September 2020 and February 2021. The Education Ministry has been doling out educational grants of $19K per child. Hampers have helped affected families during the pandemic. More grants are on the way.
There has been an increase in pension amount, public assistance, and study scholarships under President Ali’s administration, boosting the ratings of his ministers. Also, Dr. Vindya has been praised for making it easier to access pension payment and her courage in visiting the families of murder victims during last September’s West Berbice violence; she was also described as ‘approachable’.
Manickchand was praised for wading in flood waters to distribute educational grants and hampers to families. Parag was acknowledged for granting scholarships and professionalism in the public service. All three ministers received majority approval ratings for their performance. Asked if they are satisfied with the performance of Dr. Vindya, 72 per cent answered in the affirmative; women, in particular, gave Dr. Vindya high marks for addressing needs of vulnerable children and females in abusive relationships. Priya Manickchand scored 64 per cent while 59 per cent gave thumbs up to Sonia Parag. Parents complained that their children are not receiving ‘proper’ education during school closures and look forward for re-opening of schools for in-person learning.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram