Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday announced that Cabinet has approved the sum of $35 million to assist people affected by floods in different parts of TT. Rowley made the announcement at a news conference at the Piarco International Airport after he returned from the IV Caricom-Mexico Summit in Belize. Rowley said he directed Finance Minister Colm Imbert, who chaired the meeting, to ensure Cabinet approved the allocation. He said steps will be taken to ensure that this assistance reaches those most in need.
The Prime Minister said the Mexican government is willing to help this country deal with natural disasters and this could include strengthening the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM). He said Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto informed him Mexico is prepared to help TT improve its ability to handle natural disasters.
Rowley said Mexico has provided US$5 million each to Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda to assist their respective recoveries from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
As part a planned review of the ODPM, and in keeping with local government reform, Rowley said the 14 local government corporations in Trinidad and the Tobago House of Assembly will be strengthened as first responders to any natural disaster.
Dismissing claims from the Opposition that he was passing blame for flooding on the ODPM, Rowley said, “There are some people who actually enjoy a good flood.” He said while Government is undertaking a coordinated approach to bringing relief to those affected, other people “came out in their party clothes and their little boats.” He said some people were “genuinely happy” there was flooding in South Trinidad.
“ I have seen Members of Parliament accusing the Government of racism because some parts of the country flood.”
Rowley, who is also Diego Martin West MP, recalled there was significant damage in his constituency in 2014 because of flooding. “We did not accuse anybody of racism. We stayed very quiet. We took it in stride.” Rowley also said people are aware that all the country’s water courses have certain retention limits.
While as head of the government he is ultimately responsible for its operations, he said there are government ministers who report to him and they are assisted by technocrats. “We all have different roles. I am not taking any advice from the Opposition.”
He explained that even if water courses are dredged or cleared, periods of heavy rainfall can cause these limits to be breached and flooding occurs.
The Prime Minister said he will be updated by government ministers who have been in the field, about ongoing flood relief efforts. Before leaving for Belize, Rowley visited flood-affected areas in Mafeking and Manzanilla. He did not rule out the possibility of visiting other communities.