KALIFA SARAH CLYNE
As of 2 pm yesterday, Government had printed and distributed at least $30 million in cheques to approximately 30 per cent of the citizens affected by the October 19 floods in TT.
In a telephone interview, Minister of Social Development and Family Services Cherrie Ann Crichlow-Cockburn said the ministry expected most of the assessments to be completed by this weekend and to finish distributing cheques by next weekend.
Crichlow-Cockburn said so far, the ministry had assessed 5,256 households, 1,756 more than initially estimated by National Security Minister Stuart Young.
Crichlow-Cockburn said field officers from the ministry were still in communities in Sangre Grande. Of the assessments completed, the ministry had printed and distributed 1,697 cheques and expected to give out a further 1,803 next week. The rest are expected to be printed soon after.
After touring flooded areas on October 20 the Prime Minister said $25 million in relief funds would initially be allocated, to be used to replace schoolbooks, clothing for those who lost everything, and appliances.
He later said at a post-Cabinet briefing that two grants, one of $15,000 and another of $20,000, had been approved for flood victims, a deviation from the usual $10,000 grant to replace household items after disasters.
He said this change was made to speed up relief.
In the Draft Estimates of Recurrent Expenditure 2019, under the Ministry of Social Development the estimate for urgent temporary assistance is budgeted at $30 million, an increase of $10 million from 2018.
On Tuesday, Newsday obtained a copy of a list of cheques distributed in areas such as Sangre Grande, Chaguanas, Cunupia, St Helena and Kelly Village and was told there were concerns about single households receiving multiple cheques because of a loophole in the ministry’s control mechanisms.
Crichlow-Cockburn denied this, saying the ministry was taking its time to ensure transparency and accountability.
“There will be instances of multiple households in one house or more than one house on a piece of land. In instances where that is the situation, we have mechanisms to assess this and we will send officers to determine how the grants are distributed.”
Newsday received reports of people trying to cheat the system at various relief centres. In one case, a family of four allegedly tried to get individual cheques at the Disaster Management Unit of the Tunapuna Piarco Regional Corporation, but were stopped by field officers, who told them only one grant per household could be given.
Asked if she was aware of people trying to cheat the system, Crichlow-Cockburn said no.
“I haven’t seen instances, and if there are, it has not been brought to my attention. But from the time the ministry staff notices anything we have systems in place to deal with that.”
She said the assessments have been relatively easy to do in Greenvale Park and Oropune Gardens, both Housing Development Corporation (HDC) sites, as the corporation had provided a master list and maps so the ministry could identify homeowners.
“Greenvale was easier, but there are areas where it is not easy to identify those affected, and so we have put out an advertisement inviting people to contact us.
“Once that happens we will do the assessments,” Crichlow-Cockburn said.
She said while the cheques were intended to assist those who lost items in the flood, people who believed their homes or plumbing had suffered structural damage were free to go to the ministry and apply as usual.