ST. VINCENT:- Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace has defended his call for the government to make a thorough assessment of the damage the country sustained during the passage of Hurricane Tomas in October.
Eustace last week said the government should not “exaggerate” the damage, saying potential donors are more likely to contribute to rebuilding the nation if they are satisfied that damage assessments are “properly done”.
He said the government should take a few days to do professional evaluations rather than casually quote figures.
But Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has slammed Eustace for the statement, telling supporters of his Unity Labour Party (ULP) that Eustace is “trying to undermine the effort to rebuild St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
He said at a rally in the Central Leeward town of Layou on Sunday that the damage to the agricultural sector was valued approximately EC$67.2 million (US$24.88 million).
Additionally, EC$61.7 million (US$22.85 million) will be needed for rehabilitation of the sector and income support for farmers over the next seven months, Gonsalves said.
But Eustace on Monday, Nov. 8, told listeners to his New Democratic Party’s (NDP) radio programme on Nice Radio that he didn’t question the extent of the damage.
“All we are saying is do it (assessment) properly upfront so that there’d be no difficulty. I made no comment on any estimate that was set out. All I said was do it properly even if it takes you a few days,” he said.
“I make no apologies for making that statement. I am saying — and I repeat it this morning — that it is better to spend a few more days giving an accurate as possible assessment of the damage because I believe that when that is done, assistance, especially substantial needed long-term assistance, will be easier to attract. And I maintain that statement,” Eustace further said.
He said that he had heard several figures about the number of houses damaged during the passage of the hurricane.
“It doesn’t sound well — you have these figures today, another figure tomorrow. … There is no need to be spouting all those figures in the initial stage,” he said.
“Settle down and do a proper assessment so that when the donor community examines your presentation, they will find little or no fault with it and therefore the disbursement of monies to you will come quicker,” Eustace added.
“All of us in St. Vincent and the Grenadines want to see people’s houses repaired. Because I make this statement, I am some criminal or something. I am doing it because I believe that is the way it should be approached and it will bring earlier benefit to the persons who are suffering at this time,” he further said.
Eustace, a former prime minister, advised Vincentians to have “hope” and “a positive attitude in relation to the recovery from the storm”.
He however said that economic planners should be mindful of the domino effect of the impact of the loss of income due to damage to
“…[In] this present crisis, [the government] better look very carefully at what they are assessing to see to what extent the needs of people are met and the economy come back onto some sort of setting. That’s what they should be concentrating on. These questions are going to be with us for months and months and months,” said Eustace, an economist.
“We have to send a message of hope but we also have to send a message of fairness and concern for all who are affected. … I expect us to come out of the situation over time. But, what we do now will determine how long we will be in this situation,” he further said, adding that the country had already seen two years of economic decline.
Eustace said that members of his party had visited their constituencies to assess the damage, see what is needed and to “give some assurance and hope”.
He further said that the NDP will this week begin providing assistance to persons whose houses have been damaged.
“While we don’t have a great deal of money, we believe that as a concerned group, as a party, that we should try, in whatever way we can, with whatever resources we have, to at least try to provide some assistance to those persons … who particularly have received damage to their homes,” Eustace said.