News day / NALINEE SEELAL
SOLDIERS at four Battalions in Trinidad and those at a camp in Tobago yesterday described as frustrating the meals they are being fed daily because of a drastic cutback in funding by government. They are fed-up of dhal and rice, smoked herring, pancakes and curried channa. In addition, they say they are not being given vitamins.
The soldiers said sometimes they may get bread or fried bake for breakfast and on some days, black eyed peas or red beans with rice and no meat, for lunch. They added that supplies in the rations room are dwindling with remaining stocks consisting of flour, rice, smoked herring, tins of channa, red beans, black eyed peas and dhal. Up until yesterday there was no coffee, tea, juice or bottled water at ration rooms of the four battalions and camp in Tobago.
FROM $17M TO $4M FOR RATIONS
Officers in Tobago are badly affected with the collapse of the seabridge which means the inability to get food items from Trinidad to Tobago. According to military sources, prior to the announcement of TT being in a recession, the annual bill for rations was over $17 million. The amount set aside for rations this year, sources said, is $4 million. It remains unclear if and when further monetary releases will be made.
Yesterday, a senior official of the Defence Force said the downturn in the economy had taken its toll on National Security with less funds being allocated for rations for soldiers. The source said that due to the shortfall in funds only a limited amount of ration can be purchased at any one point in time, for distribution to the four battalions and the camp in Tobago; as well as the Coast Guard, Air Guard and reserves.
The source added that while it is true there has been a significant cutback in the variety of food items for soldiers, every effort is made to at least provide meals even if the food is not considered normal diet, for soldiers. The source pointed out that soldiers have to be mindful of the cut in funding and must learn to adjust.
However, the source pointed out that Chief of Defence Staff Commander Hayden Pritchard is working closely with the senior officers to work out a plan so that better meals could be provided. Some soldiers told Newsday that $80 is deducted from their salaries, daily, to go towards their meals and they want to know what is being done with this money since they are not receiving a proper diet.
“Imagine some of us do not even get the pancakes, channa and smoked herring or even a cup of coffee for breakfast because we are sent on duty before breakfast is served. And it is the same for lunch. We are being asked to do joint police patrols and other duties and we are being treated like this and the situation seems to be worsening. While we understand times are hard, we feel that the monies could be properly spent so as to ensure better meals are provided”.
SOLDIERS DRIBBLE AT NAPA NICE FOOD
The soldiers said as far as they are aware, senior officers have not been affected by the poor diet and continue to enjoy the hearty meals in their various messes. However this was disputed by a senior officer who said while it is true officers enjoy a variety of meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner there is a need to tighten belts and if it means a change in diet, “we all have to live with it until the country recovers and money begins to flow again.”
Yesterday, soldiers also challenged the decision to stop providing snacks for soldiers after dinner and they are also wondering why vitamins are no longer provided for them. According to the soldiers, vitamins are an entitlement and they are calling for an immediate intervention by former Chief of Defence Staff now Minister of National Security, Edmund Dillon. A private earns close to $6,000 a month and $2,000 of that is deducted for meals.
Soldiers who worked at the swearing in for Paula-Mae Weekes as President on Monday, said that after the cocktail ceremony at NAPA had ended, they were close to tears on seeing trays of finger food, rice, baked chicken and other delectables having to be dumped. When they returned to camp, their meal that evening was dhal and rice.
Efforts to reach Minister Dillon for a comment yesterday proved futile. Newsday was told that both Chief of Defence Staff Pritchard and his Communications Officer Flight Lieutenant Monique Sprott, were unavailable for comment as they were said to be in meetings.