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All-party collaboration on disaster recovery – manageable?

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Tue Mar 25, 2013

Next week, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr Ralph Gonsalves will present a 2014 Supplementary Appropriation Bill to Parliament for approval. The need for the supplementary Budget was occasioned by the destruction caused by unprecedented thunder showers on Christmas Eve night 2013, after the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure were approved by Parliament, and four weeks before the presentation of the 2014 Budget.{{more}}

Such was the scale of the devastation that it became palpably clear that the Budget had to be revised, priorities re-ordered and therefore a Supplementary Budget had to be brought to Parliament. After all, the damage caused has been estimated at over EC$ 300 million, a full 15 per cent of our entire Gross National Product.

The Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines will enter the parliamentary debate on the supplementary Budget, buoyed by the heartening response of the international community to the disaster relief and rehabilitation efforts. International agencies such as the World Bank and the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and governments in the region and worldwide, have all contributed generously to the cause.

The next stage of the recovery is now the formal presentation of the Supplementary Budget. Our hope is that, given the importance of the matter, both sides of Parliament would, even if temporarily, put aside their narrow politicking and put the nation’s cause and the plight of the affected persons before all else. Ideally, the Supplementary Budget should get all-party support. But this is not an ideal world, as we all are aware.

Right after the rains and floods of December 24/25, it became apparent that the relief effort was going to be subjected to political buffeting. This is not new in our context, for we have a history of political manipulation of relief efforts, by Governments and Opposition alike, which date back to the post-Soufriere eruption rehabilitation of 1979. In this case, we have not learnt the lessons of the past and been able to approach the recovery efforts on a truly national basis. That is regrettable, but, aside from egos and misplaced notions of political advantage, it is not too late to correct the mistakes being repeated.

It would appear that support from the Opposition would depend largely on the degree to which the reasonable Members appear to be satisfied that their concerns are being addressed. The Government itself cannot simply dismiss those concerns, for while it is not stated policy, there are broad perceptions of abuse of the system for personal gain, while in the process persons genuinely affected are not having their concerns met and needs provided.

It is in the interests of us all that serious attention should be paid to these concerns, to place the relief and rehabilitation programme above narrow interests and to ensure that those who seek “free rides” are weeded out and benefits are on a deserved basis.

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