ST. VINCENT: – The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has warned the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves government not to “exaggerate” the damage the country sustained during the passage of Hurricane Tomas last Saturday, Oct 30.
NDP president and Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace said on Monday, Nov. 1, that potential donors are more likely to contribute to rebuilding the nation if they are satisfied that damage assessments are “properly done” .
“…The government must be very careful with the preparation of the assessment that they are making of the situation in terms of attracting money from the donors to aid our country in this time of need,” said Eustace, an economist and former prime minister.
Eustace’s statements came as the Cabinet and other high-ranking government officials were meeting to fine-tune the government’s response to the disaster.
The storm damaged 1,200 houses sending hundred into emergency shelters and forcing the government to closed schools until next Monday, Nov 8.
It also destroyed the nation’s banana trees and left an estimated total of EC$65 million (US$24 million) in damage to the agricultural sector.
“We must not exaggerate. We have people with the capability to do that work. We can’t play politics with it, otherwise, when the time comes to get assistance, we will not get anywhere near the assistance that we may need,” said Eustace, a former minister of finance.
Eustace told listeners to the NDP’s radio programme that it would be better if the government spend more time doing a more thorough and “professional job … in terms of assessing the damage than to rush something and give a whole set of large figures”.
“Do it properly and we will save time, we will save money and, in fact, we will get more money if those who are willing to give are satisfied that the assessment given to them is properly done.
“I can’t stress that enough. The government should make sure that a proper assessment is done of the needs and the costing – how much money it is going to cost … whether it be for road, whether it be for house roofs, and, in particular, what is required in terms of the banana farmers and other persons involved in agriculture,” Eustace said.
Eustace believe that the agricultural sector was worst affected by the storm and said he expected it to have the greatest impact on the economy.
“… [W]e should address that matter urgently but professionally, not politically,” he said.
He did not envision the nation exporting banana for the rest of the year.
Banana is the main export crop in St. Vincent and is a significant income earner for hundred of Vincentians.
“I don’t see any significant shipments being made this year anymore because of the damage we have. And I think that the agricultural sector will need some priority attention by the government at this time in the fastest possible manner. That, I think, is where we are going to feel it most in terms of the economy, in terms of the agricultural sector,” Eustace said.
He called on the government to be fair in its assessment of damage to respective farms.
“I am saying that the assessment has to be fair, it has to be meaningful, and, at the same time, it has to be reasonably comprehensive to ensure that all those who are affected are assisted.
“You can’t choose this farmer and not that farmer. What you are looking to do is build back the agricultural sector, bring back out banana production to an even higher level than it was,” Eustace said.
He however reiterated his call for the government not to inflate the damage to the nation.
“We don’t inflate figures more than they need to be. We must be very practical with it. We are asking other countries to use their taxpayers money to help us and we can do no less than present them with accurate information,” he said.
Eustace said “one can never be perfect in these matters”, adding that the assessments are in fact estimation.
“But I think we have enough people with the capability to do so and it must be done properly or in the end we will not get the assistance or anywhere near the assistance we need and to get it in a timely manner.
“We don’t have much money floating around here right now. What the government did in the last budget saw to that. So, I am saying, let us spend the time, even if it takes us a few more day to complete the assessments, do it properly,” Eustace said.