ST. VINCENT: – Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has said that his government will removed from the distribution of hurricane relief anyone who hands out supplies based on politics.
He, however, said that he knows that there will be allegations especially as the country prepares to votes in general elections on Dec. 13.
The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has said that some of its supporters whose homes were damaged during the passage of Hurricane Tomas late Oct. were not being assisted.
“They want to use the materials for political purposes for the next election. They want to try to buy out people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines — buy your votes by giving you materials. I say to you, take the materials and still vote them out,” NDP president and Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace told party supporters on Wednesday, Nov. 17.
“I am a grown boy, I understand those things but that does not mean that an allegation is a fact,” Gonsalves told reporters on Friday, Nov. 19.
“I reaffirm that this government, the ULP (Unity Labour Party), we do not embrace the principle articulated by the NDP through Burton Williams,” Gonsalves said.
Williams, a former minister of health and the NDP’s candidate for South Windward, was chided by his party and later apologise for saying that if re-elected to office he will take care of his supporters first.
“Those who want to do that can do that; but it is offensive to us in the ULP. … As I have said elsewhere, the fact that Burton Williams is retained as a candidate indicates that the rest of the persons around in the NDP only play lip service to the question of non-discrimination on the basis of politics because Burton’s apology was a forced apology. … A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves, who also has ministerial responsibilities for disaster management, gave his comments hours after a ship arrived in Kingstown with EC$5.5 million (US$2.03 million) in building material.
“This is from a company in Jamaica, known as Tankweld,” he had said earlier on Friday when the ship arrived in Port Kingstown.
Gonsalves ended weeks of speculation about the origin of the vessel, which he spoke off soon after Hurricane Tomas damaged 1,200 homes and devastated the agricultural sector at the end of Oct.
He said he had made arrangement with the company for credit facilities for 90 days “provided that the supplies which they can provide us are significantly less that we can buy them for here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
Gonsalves said the Housing and Land Development Corporation in Kingstown had said that the prices for the materials purchased in Jamaica would be at least 15 per cent cheaper than those sold locally.
“Even with the landing cost and everything, it is much cheaper,” Gonsalves said in a broadcast from the pier on his party’s radio station.
“We decided that we would take the first charge of the credit, which is US$2.1 million, we can go up US$3 million, which is EC$8 million,” he said.
The shipment included 70,000 galvanise sheets, 6,000 sheets of plywood, 435 bundles of lumber, 1,500 metric tonnes of cement, steel ridging caps, 150 bundles of steel rods, and seven 40-foot containers of other building materials.
Gonsalves said the materials would take about a week to unload and that the ship will also dock at the Campden Park Container Port to unload 15 empty containers.
“The 15 containers, we want to put a container in each constituency so that we can put goods into those containers and make it easy for distribution from the districts because this calls for rapid deployment of the materials,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that the Monday after the Hurricane, three local businesses credited the government almost EC$1 million (EC$0.37 million) in building material and the government subsequently bought “a tremendous amount of materials”.
He said those subsequent purchases amounted to about EC$1 million and the government would have to make additional purchases while the vessel is being offloaded.
“… we can’t hold up the operation for six, seven days. And we have made an estimate of the damage and this material may well not even be enough,” he said, adding that it was the largest distribution of material ever in the country.
“Yesterday, the people from UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) came to see me and they were amazed at the speed with which we have proceeded with recovery and reconstruction. They said they have never seen this kind of a system anywhere,” Gonsalves said.
He said that while he was responsible for policy, Minister of Housing Senator Saboto Caesar is responsible for distribution of the materials.
Gonsalves said that the country on Monday received a US$2 million (EC$5.4 million) grant from ALBA and get US$1.2 million (EC$3.24 million) from the Venezuela government to finance the second tranche of the No-Income Housing Programme.
He further said his government was distributing building lot across the country and would distribute 12 low-income and no-income houses in Byrea next week.
“Is has been absolutely amazing the way in which this enterprise has unfolded and the way in which the government has responded,” Gonsalves said.
“I want to make the point very clear that all appropriate mechanisms for accountability and transparency they are in place and absolutely no discrimination in the distribution of materials – purely on the question of need,” Gonsalves said.