Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says the prosecution should have presented the evidence of theft of Public Assistance —“Poor Relief” — money in the recent trial, if they had such evidence.
“Because if you don’t have the evidence against somebody, you shouldn’t bring the case…” Gonsalves, who is minister of legal affairs, said on the state-owned NBC Radio.
Learie Johnson, 66, of Lowmans Windward, and Derville Thomas, a 46-year-old former police officer, of Bridgetown, Biabou, walked out of the Serious Offences Court as free men on Dec. 28, after the court upheld a no case submission by their lawyer, Grant Connell.
The two men were charged, in February 2018, with stealing thousands of dollars in social welfare payouts, commonly called ‘Poor Relief”.
The case collapsed at the preliminary inquiry stage, meaning that the Crown failed to convince the court that there was enough evidence to compel the men to be tried before a judge and jury at the High Court.
“And if you have the evidence and the evidence wasn’t presented, well, somebody should be answering for that,” Gonsalves said.
He was speaking on Wednesday as he said that there had been complaints by a few farmers who received payouts under a state programme in October, that they did not receive the December tranche.
“[I] don’t know how that has happened,” the prime minister said, adding that farmers who never received a payout have to sort out their issues, by presenting their farmer’s ID and other relevant documents.
He explained that if a farmer is cultivating land belonging to someone else and presents that person’s identification card, the farmer has to produce their identification card as well.
“Because even if you bring John Browne’s farmer’s ID, you have to show your own picture ID, too. and the two ain’t going square. Ce can’t go and pay a dead man we have to avoid that.”
He then went on to express concern about the collapse of the case involving the men accused of stealing Public Assistance money.
“We see so many persons who are dead get money from Public Assistance. But I don’t understand how that case collapsed.”
The prime minister said that it upsets him very much to hear people are receiving Public Assistance in the names of dead people.
“I ain’t talking so much about a family member in the home get it for a month or two before the authorities catch on that the person is dead. I’m talking about anybody in the system or aligned to the system who’s setting about to try to beat the system.”
Gonsalves said that people engaged in such action are “robbing poor people of the money. “And it upsets me very much. And you know, if it upsets me very much, I’m doing things. I can’t say what I’m doing, but believe me I’m doing things. And it upsets me greatly. I shouldn’t say very much. It’s upset me a hell of a lot.”