by: Derek Achong
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s $25 million pledge for relief for the victims of last weekend’s devastating floods was only a preliminary estimate.
Speaking at a joint press conference at his Port-of-Spain office yesterday, National Security and Communications Minister Stuart Young admitted the figure may rise or fall depending on ongoing assessment being conducted by government officials.
Young described the public criticism over the alleged inability of the funds to bring relief to the estimated 120,000 victims of the flood as premature. He claimed that when Government set the disaster relief grants in this year’s budget, it had allocated funds for unforeseen natural disasters. He claimed the money promised by Rowley is intended to buttress the money that was already allocated prior to the floods.
“The Government is not going to say we hit $25 million, shut the doors, everybody go home and tough for those who did not get,” Young said.
He claimed that during less severe flooding in November last year, the Government pledged $30 million in disaster relief and only a small portion was necessary.
“You would be surprised by the low level of legitimate requests and grants that were given. It did not even touch anything near that,” Young said, as he noted that not every household that was affected would be eligible for all grants being offered.
Young also sought to clarify Rowley’s decision to decline assistance offered by Caricom leaders in the aftermath of the flood, as he claimed it was not an outright refusal.
“At this stage, we don’t think that we require foreign assistance. We thanked them very much and told them that if we do need it, we will ask for it at that time,” Young said.
But he admitted the Government was yet to do an assessment of total costs of the flooding, which would also consider the grants being assessed for victims.
The relief grants include a $15,000 grant for structural repairs to houses, which will be processed by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) for its affected units in Greenvale and Oropune Gardens and by the National Commission for Self Help for all other residences.
The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services is also processing $10,000 grants for damaged electrical appliances and furniture and up to $20,000 in grants for electrical and plumbing repairs to homes. Primary school students who lost all their school supplies in the flood will receive $700, while secondary school students would receive $1,000.
Young said Government had decided to ease its assessment criteria for the grants considering the extent of the disaster.
“They are applying more common sense to it and they are doing it for the circumstances,” Young said, as he explained that the minister’s staff would be able to make the assessments even after victims disposed of their damaged items and begin repair work.
Asked whether Government was considering establishing an international fund to collect donations from Trinidadians living abroad and foreign nationals, Young said he would advise against it until assessment on what resources are needed are completed.
“I have said at this stage hold off on that, because the logistical element that can come along with that, we don’t need at this time. Quite frankly, we are trying to prevent the opportunity for corruption to take place because when you have this flood of money, it tends to go,” Young said.
However, he did say the Government appreciated the continuing relief efforts facilitated by local companies.
“Right now the Government is coping with it but we are not suggesting for a moment that the private sector does not continue to do the tremendous job they are doing,” he said.