February 21, 2014
Let Government leave them to rot – Eustace

Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace says that he has evidence that flood relief supplies are not being distributed fairly. {{more}}

“So then I don’t trust them (National Emergency Management Organisation) to be involved in the distribution. If the government wants to leave them in Customs to rot let them take that decision,” Eustace said yesterday morning on a popular morning talk radio program.

He initially made the comment on Wednesday during the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) press conference.

At the press briefing Eustace announced that from all indications, relief supplies that were being sent to the NDP for distribution to affected persons would be subjected to import duty, VAT and the Customs Service Charge.

“We regard this as unfair, discriminatory and punishment for those persons who are in dire need of these relief items,” he said.

The Leader of the Opposition provided those present at the press briefing with copies of two letters as evidence to support the claim that the Customs fees will not be waivered for relief items being sent to the NDP.

Eustace provided copies of a letter sent to Opposition Senator Dr Linton Lewis, under whose name a quantity of items were sent, and issued by the Director General in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and dated January 20.

It stated: “Reference is made to your letter dated 16th January, 2014. Please be advised that approval has been granted for a 100 percent waiver of Import Duty, VAT and Customs Service Charge on the attached list of supplies.”

However a subsequent letter was sent dated January 23 which stated that the application for duty free concessions on the goods had been denied.

“I wish to refer to my correspondence of January 20, 2014 which granted approval for you to import a quantity of goods to be distributed to persons affected by the Christmas Eve Flood. Please note that this approval was conditional on Cabinet’s ratification of this decision in accordance with the law governing such matters.

Cabinet at its meeting on January 22, denied your application for duty-free concessions on the goods, Accordingly, I shall be grateful if you would make arrangement for payment of the outstanding duties due of the said goods.”

He said that the NDP were expecting approximately 45 barrels and cartons of relief mainly from the Canadian Diaspora and that he submitted an application for the waiver of Customs’ fees two weeks ago.

When contacted yesterday, he said that he was going to submit an updated application containing the precise number of items that they would be expecting.

The NDP intends to take a number of planned actions, Eustace announced, starting with the planned press conference earlier this week.

He also told SEARCHLIGHT that the party would be notifying regional and international organizations, financial institutions and some governments to make them aware of what was taking place with regard to the relief supplies and the refusal to grant waivers.

A copy of one of the these letters was also provided to the media, one addressed to the CARICOM’s Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque.

He announced that the NDP would also be having a series of meetings in the affected areas to deal with the issue and others.

And he said that it as previously announced, there would be protest action taken, but he did not define what type of action – picket or march protest.

“But then a lot of people suggested that we take a much wider approach,” the Leader of the Opposition said.

“We will be doing other things, first of all we had a press conference and we will be writing to a number of institutions. So we will take that approach to it,” he continued.

When contacted, Howie Prince the Director of NEMO said that the opposition leader should first bring the evidence he has that the relief items were being distributed unfairly.

“Let him present the evidence. He is making allegations – allegations cannot stand in court, it’s evidence, let him present the evidence,” Prince told SEARCHLIGHT.

The director of NEMO said that a decision was made for the organization he heads to coordinate and distribute relief items.

“Because we don’t want a situation where 10 people are getting and 90 people are not and then 10 organisations going back to the same people as before and others not getting,” Prince explained.

“If it is not coordinated that would happen, so that is why we have said that we would be involved in the distribution,” he continued.

He said that there were examples of people who brought in their own relief supplies and indicated that they wanted to be involved in the distribution of the items.

“So we would work out who would get what to avoid dropping a lot of stuff in one place, fattening one set of people while everybody else don’t get.”

In relation to the issue involving Dr Lewis, NEMO’s director said that he did apply and was granted duty free concessions.

“We can’t tell you what happened to the distribution because they didn’t tell us how they were going to distribute it,” he said. (DD)