PM’s $25M flood relief pledge only a preliminary estimate

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 as­sess­ments 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 that 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.

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