PM: Fraudsters stole $45m in flood relief

Thursday, November 29, 2018 - 14:00

More than $45 mil­lion that was sup­posed to go to flood vic­tims in por­tions of North East Trinidad last month was in­stead ob­tained by fraud­sters, Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley says.

This amount of mon­ey lost to fraud was al­most dou­ble what the Gov­ern­ment orig­i­nal­ly in­tend­ed to give to vic­tims of the flood­ing.

Ini­tial­ly, Row­ley had ear­marked $25 mil­lion to be al­lo­cat­ed to flood vic­tims, with the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the flood re­lief fig­ure "go­ing a lit­tle above it" if nec­es­sary.

How­ev­er, he said a to­tal of $118 mil­lion was even­tu­al­ly spent. But forty per cent was tak­en by fraud­sters, an au­dit from the Min­istry of Fi­nance has stat­ed.

"I re­gret to tell you the Min­is­ter of Fam­i­ly Ser­vices told me to­day that when they au­dit­ed, hav­ing dealt with the claims as ex­pe­di­tious­ly as pos­si­ble so as to bring re­lief as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, the pub­lic ser­vice han­dling that, we dis­cov­ered that the lev­el of fraud in that pro­gramme was 40 per cent and that is now a mat­ter for the Min­istry of Fi­nance and the au­dit, and the po­lice be­cause there are peo­ple amongst us who have ac­cept­ed that mis­con­duct of that na­ture is nor­mal," Row­ley said.

Row­ley made the state­ments as he de­liv­ered the fea­ture ad­dress at aPeo­ple's Na­tion­al Move­ment (PNM) Thurs­day night at the Port-of-Spain City Hall.

On Oc­to­ber 19, flood­ing dev­as­tat­ed sev­er­al com­mu­ni­ties in the North East­ern por­tion of Trinidad, in­clud­ing the Green­vale Park de­vel­op­ment in La Hor­quet­ta.

When the flood­ing oc­curred Row­ley ini­tial­ly an­nounced that $25 mil­lion would be dis­trib­uted to aid with flood re­lief.

Row­ley said he ar­rived at this fig­ure af­ter he was told that vic­tims of the "big flood" in the South East­ern end of the coun­try were giv­en just over $12 mil­lion in flood re­lief.

"I im­me­di­ate­ly made a state­ment and I in­struct­ed the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance to make $25 mil­lion avail­able, I dou­bled it be­cause I had seen the ex­tent of those ar­eas from Kel­ly up to Green­vale, I re­alised this was much more than what had hap­pened in the South East cor­ner and in­to the Oropouche basin. We dou­bled it," Row­ley said.

Row­ley said af­fect­ed house­holds with­out chil­dren re­ceived $15,000 while those with chil­dren re­ceived $20,000.

"That was to make it eas­i­er to ad­min­is­ter and to make it a more di­rect and a lit­tle more as­sis­tance," he said

"Im­me­di­ate­ly I had rea­son to cau­tion the Min­is­ter of So­cial De­vel­op­ment, 'watch the be­hav­iour of our peo­ple.' We have those who will try to get more than they are qual­i­fied for and some who didn't qual­i­fy at all."

How­ev­er, this is still ex­act­ly what hap­pened Row­ley said.

"The next thing I know, be­cause of the ease we were fa­cil­i­tat­ing the claims be­ing made by those be­ing af­fect­ed by wa­ter, I was told by the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance that that pro­gramme of as­sis­tance to those af­fect­ed by the floods is now cost­ing us $84 mil­lion," Row­ley said.

"By the time I asked the Min­is­ter of So­cial and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices about the claims made and how much we have ad­dressed, we dis­cov­ered it is now $118 mil­lion but at the mean­time, the po­lice reached and start­ed to pick up those thiev­ing the mon­ey that was meant for the least of the apos­tles."

The PM said this is the kind of cor­rup­tion that has per­me­at­ed the coun­try and there­fore fi­nan­cial laws are need­ed.

And it is for this very rea­son Row­ley said the 23 Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment from the Gov­ern­ment will vote to pass the In­come Tax (Amend­ment) Bill on Fri­day.

Par­lia­ment is sched­uled to start at 1.30 pm Fri­day and Row­ley has a meet­ing with Op­po­si­tion Leader Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar hours be­fore the sit­ting at 10.30 am to dis­cuss the bill.

"They are run­ning true to form de­lay, ob­ject, ob­struct and sab­o­tage, that is what you are fac­ing from the Op­po­si­tion," he said.

"If we don't put it to the vote the dead­line comes to­mor­row and goes, we fail, if we put it to the vote and they vote against it we fail. We shall put it to the vote."

He said if the bill is not passed it has the po­ten­tial of de­stroy­ing this coun­try's bank­ing sec­tor.

- by Joel Julien