Trinidad PM: Fraudsters carted off $45m in flood relief

(Trinidad Guardian) 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.

Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley

Row­ley made the state­ments as he de­liv­ered the fea­ture ad­dress at a Peo­ple’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.


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