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Beyond shamelessness, there is grace

Sunday, July 26, 2015
Helen Drayton

Within the boundaries of shamelessness, there is no room for honesty, no place for conscience, nothing wholesome, just the thick air of institutional decay and the gloss of spin. To have been spectators to grand theft in Life Sport and to have more than just a strong sense of corruption in public affairs are not good experiences. It is not just a case of speculation or mere allegations. One need not look much beyond the pages of the Auditor General’s Annual Reports for red flags of misconduct. Moreover, images of processed cheques published in the newspapers showed that a person accused of corruption prior to and after 2010 paid large sums of money to political party candidates contesting elections. They are now government ministers who have not denied accepting the funds. This raises questions about the judgment of those contending for a new term of office. The chances that they might have received tainted monies are about the same as another earthquake striking Haiti.

There is a tendency by the Government to brand serious offences by its members as missteps. That was all too familiar when fraud in the Children’s Life Fund was trivialised by the assertion that only a small amount of money was stolen. Admittedly, there were expressions of concern.

How depressing that after all the sleaze in recent times, fraud now taints the Children’s Life Fund. Even more disheartening is the likelihood that investigations into management of the fund will fall into the sinkhole that swallowed up reports on Prisongate, the illegal Flying Squad, First Citizens IPO, National Gas Company social spending, the truth about Section 34, National Energy Corporation stolen $60 million and other footprints of malfeasance? 

To quote a legal submission to the board of the Children’s Life Fund Authority, “On numerous occasions persons who were receiving funding from the Authority for medical care for their children were not informed and never received monies for meal allowances in circumstances where the records of the Authority plainly suggest that these persons received such monies for the meal allowances. There is also material to suggest that monies were withdrawn from the bank and given to officials of the Authority. The simple point remains that these monies taken from the fund of the Authority ostensibly for the assistance of family members of patients never found its way to these persons who were entitled to the monies.” 

Not even a fund for sick children can escape manipulation and corruption by people without shame.

The Government’s Life Fund wasn’t the first and only fund to help sick children. There is an excellent blueprint in the country for running a children’s life fund efficiently, which the Government may wish to emulate.

For 30 years, Community Chest with the support of previous governments has helped children with life-threatening illnesses get medical services. Its mission was to save the lives of children with congenital heart disease who needed surgery unavailable here. Its founders were Mr Johnny Rooks, Dr David Bratt and Dr Edmond Chamely. Joining them on the council over the years were social workers Miss Joan Bishop and Miss May Cherrie. Also, Dr Ava Camps, Carl Chatoor, Charley Barrow, Eunice Gittens, Richard Rooks, Frank Bradshaw and Helen Drayton. 

Notably, all administrative expenses were borne by its unpaid volunteers, council members who managed the programme, and donations from the business community and citizens. BeeWee/Caribbean Airlines provided free air travel for parents and children. The doctors collaborated with North Shore Hospital and Joe Di Maggio Children's Hospital, USA, which afforded subsidised hospitalisation and surgery at a fixed fee regardless of the medical complications and the patient’s length of stay. The price included accommodation and meals for a parent, so parents received a small but adequate out-of-pocket allowance from Community Chest. The average cost for a child was approximately $60,000 (TT) in addition to the cost of visa applications, clothing and other essential needs. Parents received counselling services from the time the doctors referred the child to the foreign hospital until well after discharge of the child. 

What was the result of Community Chest humanitarian efforts?

It saved the lives of 355 children and many more because of its vision. It was not about vanity publicity. That is not a feature of humanitarianism. Its ultimate goal was to develop local expertise so it collaborated with foreign doctors to come to Trinidad and perform surgeries for groups of children. Eventually, together with Caribbean Heart Care, the Ministry of Health and the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, it established the paediatric open-heart surgery unit in that institution fulfilling its initial mission.

The Community Chest now continues with the programme it started in 2003 to assist children at the Princess Elizabeth Centre by bringing in medical expertise to perform orthopaedic surgeries not otherwise done here. It is also helping the Diabetes Education, Research & Prevention Institute with their work in preventing hyperglycaemia in pregnancy.

There is grace beyond the shamelessness.


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