The victims affected by the recent floods want to know when and if government will address their distressing situation. When the issue of compensation for persons, especially hinterland dwellers who lost homes and all the appurtenances therein, as well as farmers who lost crops and livestock after the recent flooding, was raised in Parliament on July 27 by opposition parliamentarian Colin Croal, Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan, told the House that compensation is not usually provided by the state for such disasters faced by Guyanese.
The dire straits of regions affected by flooding was treated as non-important by the government, as weeks after this catastrophe had destroyed homes and livelihoods, Minister Bulkan informed the House that the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) were still compiling assessment reports. Despite repeated queries by Mr Croal about a timeline for the reports to be completed, Mr Bulkan prevaricated, as has become the norm with government ministers when challenged about their lack of timely intervention when crisis affects the citizens of the land.
Bulkan averred that a response to the crisis in Regions 8 and 9 was dependent on the outcome of a joint report between the Governments of Guyana and Brazil, because Granger’s government contended that a rise in the river levels in Brazil contributed to the flooding in the hinterland areas. This begs the question of whether the residents of Regions 8 and 9 are not Guyanese who are entitled to state assistance in a crisis, regardless of the circumstances, instead of awaiting the outcome of a blame game with a neighbouring country.
Minister Bulkan’s response that “… compensation is not normally offered in situations like this” is erroneous. The correct response should have been “Compensation is not normally offered in situations like this under the coalition government”, because, in such situations under the PPP/C administration prompt needs assessments were carried out and immediate assistance provided, with requisite compensation and other interventions to restore life to normalcy on a long-term basis, based on qualifying factors.
A January 20, 2009 news item in the Kaieteur News reported “As some communities along the Coast continue to be under water, Head of State, President Bharrat Jagdeo, yesterday said, ‘We will continue to hold their hands through this process.’ Addressing the flood situation and the relief efforts, the President said that of the $100M that was set aside for assistance, some $16M has already been expended.
“The comprehensive plan for the $100M includes the provision of seeds, chemicals, fertilizer, veterinary supplies, livestock feed, seed paddy, duckling, broilers and fuel.
“I want those communities, some of which are still under water, to know that the assistance that they have received, that’s not the end of it…there is still quite a bit of assistance to be disbursed to these places.” That edition also reported that the PPP/C Government had allocated $2B in the 2009 Budget for the Conservancy Relief Channel at Hope, East Coast Demerara, with another $1B promised to be included in the 2010 Budget.
On June 7, 2011 KN reported on another flooding incident “Government [PPP/C] has taken a ‘hands-on’ approach in assisting the flood affected residents of Region Nine by having food supplies and health resources flown into the various areas where residents have suffered tremendously after experiencing incessant rainfall for the past few weeks coupled with the overflowing of the Takutu River.
“Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, yesterday, stated that intervention is one which has been coordinated on the ground by the Prime Minister and aided by a number of agencies including the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) with support from the Civil Defence Commission (CDC).
“He said, ‘It is an all out effort’ and explained that the Ministry of Agriculture’s main focus is on assisting farmers who suffered from this catastrophe as well as its ‘readily geared concern being food security’ in such a crisis.
“Minister Persaud emphasized that his team is currently on the ground trying to determine the impact this disaster has had on food production in the area, while saying that President Jagdeo ‘personally stated that we should come up with a plan to ensure that there is resumption of food production as soon as possible and victims being provided with adequate relief.’
“Kaieteur News understands that this Ministry yesterday sent more personnel into Lethem to determine how much crops could be saved and assist the team already there in providing technical advice and implement ideas which could remedy some of the situations that residents are being faced with.
“The PPP/C Agriculture Minister had said ‘We are treating it as total devastation. Senior officials, technical and human resources are being deployed into the area; people are being moved within the areas. We are bracing ourselves for the worst.’
“Kaieteur News was told that basically dry goods and potable water are being supplied to the Rupununi region as the Ministry of Agriculture continues to pay keen attention to ensuring adequate food is made available. It continues to work very closely with farmers.
“A large number of livestock and cattle have already been relocated to higher ground and veterinary doctors have already been deployed into the area to provide treatment where necessary.”
There was more of the same, detailing the many interventions the PPP/C government was doing to help the flood-affected residents of Guyana, especially in the vulnerable hinterland and farming regions.
As regards Minister Bulkan and the coalition government’s stance of no solid assistance, as well as a vehement rejection of compensation for those whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed by the recent floods, let us take a look at another Kaieteur News report.
A headline ‘PNC repeats call for Govt. to treat flood relief with urgency’ of Apr 1, 2011 reported “The main opposition party, People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), has called on the Government to treat the issue of compensation for flood victims as a matter of urgency.” The PNC was quoted as saying, “the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government appeared not to have learnt any lessons from our floods.”
But the hypocritical APNU+AFC government needs to take an example from the PPP/C record of a caring government’s response to its people’s needs. Again in KN, reported in the June 9, 2011 edition, headlined ‘Region 9 flooding… Authorities grapple with relief efforts to far-flung villages’, it is stated in part, “The rains have held up in the flood-stricken Region Nine with attention now concentrating in moving critical food and other supplies to isolated villages.
“According to Nigel Dharamlall, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government, who is helping to coordinate relief works from a base in Lethem, two planeloads of food and other critical supplies, each taking 1,000 pounds, were flown in from the city yesterday with another two expected today…. Yesterday, a cassava mill for the Aishalton village whose residents are battling to save cassava and corn from around 100 farms, was flown in from the Ministry of Agriculture. That village, which buys supplies from mainly Lethem, will now have to depend on flights to the areas.
“Food supplies have been taken to several other villages with boats, where vehicles are impossible to maneuver.”
The very long report on Government intervention to assist critical areas included the announcement by President Bharrat Jagdeo of the release of $50M for emergency relief efforts to be spent on roads, bridges and supplies.
In the Mahaica area Joe Hook and Grass Hook farmers faced devastation by floods and the PPP/C administration facilitated their relocation to the Hope Estate, where they are thriving. Those who opted to remain still continue to lose crops to floods, but this was through their choice and not by any neglect by the former government.
These are merely a few of the scores of such media reports reporting on a PPP/C response to “such disasters faced by Guyanese”; and the quotations and extractions were deliberately taken from the KN, a newspaper that normally takes great delight in denigrating the PPP/C, in or out of government.
Alister Charlie, MP