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