Just under $2 million was spent on Christmas hampers for Members of Parliament to distribute to needy people in their constituencies, Minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh has said.
Speaking to the Express by phone yesterday, Ramadharsingh said each of the 41 MPs received 100 hampers, and consideration will be given to doubling this number next year because of increased demand.
The hampers, which contain basic food items, were collected last Friday at a community centre in Central Trinidad.
Ramadharsingh said additional hampers were given to non-governmental organisations and faith-based organisations for distribution to the poor.
"MPs are asking for more, these hampers are highly appreciated, people who received them are so happy to get some support at this time," said Ramadharsingh.
He said the hampers allowed people to save and will allow them to buy toys for their children and share Christmas joy.
The hampers, said Ramadharsingh, go a long way in assisting people who are on the borderline, who may not have gotten their salary on time and some who are currently unemployed.
"We are overwhelmed with requests and we will consider expanding the number of persons to be assisted next year," he said.
Ramadharsingh said each MP was requested to have a conversation with the person or family receiving the hamper and enquire about ways in which the Ministry of the People could intervene and lift that person out of poverty.
"In an oil and gas rich country there are unacceptably high levels of poverty and the People's Partnership government has done tremendous work and will continue to confront and deal with this problem," said Ramadharsingh.
He noted that recently some 17 individuals graduated from an On the Job Training programme at the Siparia Empowerment Centre.
Ramadharsingh said life skills centres will also be constructed in central and east Trinidad to train people.
He said his ministry was guided by the Planning Ministry's figures, which stated that poverty in the country decreased from 24 to 17 per cent over the past two and a half years.