Open the coffers

Independent Senator Harold Crichlow

It is unacceptable that $37 million available for catastrophe relief is in the Consolidated Fund unused when Barbadians are in need of such assistance.

Independent Senator Harold Crichlow today suggested that rather than quarrel bitterly over who was at fault, both the current administration and its predecessor now in Opposition should give the public answers about problems with the Catastrophe Fund, specifically its inaccessibility.

He was speaking in the Upper House this afternoon as members debated an amendment to the Catastrophe Fund Act.

Saying there were “gaps on both sides”, the former Anglican dean said the important issue was to provide needed assistance to Barbadians and reimbursing those agencies which would have assisted these individuals after Tropical Storm Tomas in 2010.

Crichlow said he believed all donations, including the $37 million now in the Consolidated Fund, should be used for the intended purpose.

“I have not heard from the Government side why they couldn’t access the fund. Now, $37 million was contributed to the fund, the fund started with capital and it was intended that every year Government in its Estimates should set apart a sum of money for the … Fund and that is very sensible,” he noted.

“I would like to find out why the fund is not accessible, because if you say the fund is not accessible it means that something would have happened before the new Government came to office to the fund. Why wasn’t it accessible?

“And then the $37 million was added to the fund: Why was this money placed in the Consolidated Fund instead of in the Catastrophe Fund? I am just trying to find out certain facts and if money had to be refunded and it was known how much was spent on the catastrophe, on Tomas, why couldn’t some of that $37 million be refunded to agencies that had already done the repairs and so on?” he asked.

Crichlow suggested it was not good enough that people were waiting for help in 2012 in such circumstances, and he said such reminded him of concerns raised persistently in the Auditor General’s Reports.

“I was in the Senate nine years or so and I can think of the damage that the Auditor General warned this country of several times and the then Government bench just laughed at me, laughed at the reports coming through from the Auditor General,” he recalled.

“I am saying that we here in the Senate ought to hear from the Opposition members … what became of those funds with the same kind of clarity that we are hearing in this matter.”

He also said inter party rivalry made resolving such challenges worse.

“That is what is complicating the whole thing, that we are not really getting at the facts of the case, each side is accusing the other of having motives that may not be relevant to the matter,” he noted.

“You are saying that this is a political matter to deal with the elections and so on and that confuses it I think. We want to hear about the Catastrophe Fund, what is in it, and if there is money to help those poor people who are still waiting for help.

“All the money that is given for catastrophes should be put in the Catastrophe Fund and those people who have spent money already should be refunded and I don’t even think we need an amendment of the act to do that,” Crichlow added. (SC)

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