STORY by SUNSHINE TODAY REPORTER
The use of software and other applications for phones, computers, and tablets is a major feature in the current business, social and academic landscape and their purpose is to make life much better than it was even a decade ago.
Every day we benefit from the work of software engineers and data scientists who have converted the primary use of mobile phones from just making phone calls and sending messages into a device that regulates our business and life fluency. These include reminders of appointments and important dates, ordering food, calling a taxi, booking flights, tracking of our health, keeping up with the news, doing banking and other business transactions, or buying a flight ticket.
It is therefore unbelievable that at a time when the world is on a global lockdown when borders have been closed when first responders are begging citizens to stay at home to protect themselves and others from a deadly virus which has already taken more than 260,000 lives, that Government would have rejected a mobile application that would assist in the restriction of people’s movements and bring required services to people’s doorsteps. Even more unbelievable is the reason for not making use of such an application, one that was developed locally.
This is the narrative that has evolved where an app that could improve on the safety and security of the people of Pt. Fortin, created by a son of the soil, was rejected by Government.
The PNM Government has dropped the ball in the execution of the social relief programme, and many can attest to their lack of readiness if only by the length of the lines outside offices where persons seeking assistance find themselves in compromising social distancing positions waiting to access and obtain approval for the grants.
The reality is that even after receiving the social grants, many are forced to leave their homes, wait for hours to obtain transportation then travel for miles to get to the bank, supermarket and pharmacy.
Lack of foresight
From inception, Government has been criticized for its lack of foresight concerning the rollout of its social benefits. Many questions as to why the Government did not find a less arduous way to assist in ways that would preserve their dignity and maintain social distancing.
This is a familiar process throughout the country and most evident in Point Fortin and the process that needy residents must endure accessing grants provided for them by the Government and the Regional Corporation.
Many must borrow money to travel to and from San Fernando with this cost a further erosion into the pittance that is being offered to them by the Government. To relieve some of the pressure for residents, the Mayor of Point Fortin examined the problem and turned to the local software company, which designed a proposal that included the use of digital grants instead of cheques and which would maximize the use of the financial assistance provided.
The advantages of the system
The plan would have allowed persons to go to the Point Fortin Borough Corporation website, complete the application form for the grant and once approved, a unique bar-code will be sent instantaneously to the applicant’s phone. The successful applicant could then go to the supermarket, pick up the items needed, go to the cashier or the point of sale where the barcode on the phone is scanned by a terminal. The person’s picture will come up and once the retailer verifies that it is the correct person, the sale will be completed with consummate ease and the resident will be allowed to leave. This could be done at the supermarket, gas station or pharmacy.
The advantages of this system are numerous to the Borough, Government and most importantly, the recipient. There are transparency and accountability for the government and the Borough Corporation; ease of doing business at a much lower cost for the recipient and reduces the risk of citizens, especially the elderly, from being robbed. While there is a cost of $1.00 per transaction to the businessman which goes directly to the developer if the Government wishes it could be borne by the State.
Regretfully, the proposal put forward by the Mayor and the local software company was turned down by Government, the Minister of Finance in particular, who instructed that this laudable approach be placed on pause. Questions are being asked as to why the proposal was shelved and people are wondering if it is because it came from a little black boy who would benefit from its use and not from a one-percenter. There is speculation that a favoured financial institution has its eyes on this initiative.
This same WIPAY initiative is now being used, in most cases, to pay court fines and maintenance fees, one which the Honourable Attorney General Faris Al Rawi publicly commented on recently. This same initiative is now being used at the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Questions are being asked as to why it was rejected for Pt. Fortin.
At a time when solutions already exist that would make people’s lives easier, this government is stifling growth and development and discouraging local innovation. Sunshine Today is of the view that the Government needs to reconsider its decision. The people of Point Fortin, although they are “PNM till ah dead”, they deserve better. Not only Pt. Fortin. People should never be paraded as beggars and seekers of handouts, re-enforcing stereotypical perspectives projected by the 1%.
It is time that the Government thinks about the psyche of our people and build their pride rather than humiliate them publicly.
This app was designed to make life easier for the burgesses of Point Fortin; approving it for public use could only build the esteem of the vulnerable in that Borough. Let Point Fortin no longer be another constituency in the South that the PNM forgot!