Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Trinidad PM

No help for Caricom countries hit by Tropical Storm Tomas without benefits to Trinidad and Tobago.

This was made clear by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday.

She said Trinidad and Tobago stands ready to assist its Caricom neighbours but she stipulated that any aid would only come after discussions with her Cabinet colleagues as well as the Opposition Leader, and must in some measure benefit the country.

Speaking at a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, Persad-Bissessar said she has received a call from the Prime Minister of St Vincent while Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan had been in contact with his counterparts in Barbados and St Lucia, territories in the region which have been hit by Tomas.

She said she intended to speak to her Cabinet colleagues as well as the Leader of the Opposition to see what relief this country could give to the other Caribbean islands.

“We will have to look at ways in which we would be able to assist. But you would recall my comments earlier this year, when I said there must some way in which Trinidad and Tobago would also benefit. So if we are giving assistance with housing for example, and that is one of the areas that we (Prime Minister of St Vincent and myself ) spoke about, … then we may be able to use Trinidad and Tobago builders and companies, so that whatever money or assistance is given, redounds back in some measure to the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” she said.

She said this is why she intends to approach her Cabinet colleagues as well as the Leader of the Opposition with this proposal—to marry the benefit to Trinidad and Tobago while giving assistance to those islands that have been very badly hit.

The Manning government had been severely criticised by Trinidad and Tobago nationals for giving assistance to Caribbean countries especially in non-emergency situations.

Persad-Bissessar said it was St Vincent Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves who reported to her that that island was devastated. He revealed that over 600 homes were completely destroyed, infrastructure damaged and the agricultural sector ravaged, she said. “The Prime Minister indicated that not a plantain or banana tree was standing,” Persad-Bissessar added.

She said Barbados and St Lucia were doing a needs assessment and Gonsalves had indicated that he would do something in writing when that country conducts its needs assessment.

She said the Government had already mobilised through the Minister of Local Government, two containers of foodstuff, and it would make a decision where to send it but “certainly to St Vincent”.

Noting that the news suggested that the storm was heading to Haiti, she said it was tragic since Haiti was pounded in so many ways. She said if this is the case, Government would have to consider assistance to Haiti again. “But it would do nothing unless the Cabinet discusses it and the Leader of the Opposition is consulted,” she stressed.