Government dismisses Opposition’s claims of victimisation in hurricane relief

Government dismisses Opposition’s claims of victimisation in hurricane relief

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

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MINISTER of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie yesterday denied Opposition claims of political victimisation in the country’s response to the threat from Hurricane Matthew last week.

McKenzie was responding to accusations hurled at the Government by former local government minister, Noel Arscott, following a statement to the House of Representatives by the minister.

Arscott claimed that the Government "compromised protocol" by sidelining technical experts and leaving the task of informing the public mainly to the political directorate.

"Despite the fact that the minister has political responsibility, he should not have sidelined the experts," Arscott said.

He also claimed that the Opposition had evidence that Government Members of Parliament (MPs) collected hurricane supplies for their constituents.

"This is a most distasteful form of political victimisation," Arscott argued, adding that it was related to the victimisation of public sector employees who have lost their jobs since the change of Government in March.

Opposition MPs also claimed that they had not received a $1-million relief assistance which all 63 MPs were offered by the Government during the threat of the hurricane.

But McKenzie said that problems which affected the distribution of the supplies were not partisan and has been plaguing the system for years under previous governments.

He said that the current Government was ensuring that the issues be reviewed and efforts made to ensure that they do not continue to plague the disaster preparedness emergency management process.

McKenzie accused the Opposition of doing nothing to improve the process, nor the chances of Jamaica accessing benefits from the regional catastrophe risk insurance, during their previous four years in power.

He said that the $1 million offered to the MPs would have come out of their Constituency Development Fund resources, and all the MPs needed to do was to apply for the funding.

The minister said that even before Jamaica was placed on Hurricane Watch, on October 1, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) had started the process of preparing the country.

"The agency activated the National Disaster Action Plan - Hurricane Standing Orders on September 26, which guided the actions of the National Emergency Operations Centre and agencies involved in the response," he told the House.

He also pointed out that a meeting of the National Disaster Risk Management Council was held by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on September 30, at Jamaica House, to which all 63 MPs were invited, as well as agencies, ministries and departments which were placed on alert.

He said that at the policy level, the NEOC was activated at level 2 on October 1; a total of 16 emergency operations centres were activated islandwide; 193 shelters were opened, and provided accommodation for 3,501 people. The highest numbers of people seeking refuge at the shelters came from St Thomas (1,067), Kingston and St Andrew (578), Portland (677) and St Mary (403).

McKenzie said that ODPEM ensured the distribution of important items to the shelters, including tarpaulins, raincoats, lanterns, blankets and mattresses, toilet paper and water.

He said that the Administration also took the critical decision to provide the shelters with food, to nourish people from the first day of entry; arrange for homeless persons to be accommodated through the local authorities and the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Salvation Army. Municipal Corporations (parish councils), he added, were a critical part of the disaster management system.

"I wish to commend them, and some of the mayors who provided exceptional leadership when it was needed most," McKenzie said.

He expressed thanks to the Jamaica Urban Transit Company for the critical transport support provided for the evacuation effort.

He also noted that 100 displaced people were taken from Old Harbour Bay Police Station to the Old Harbour High School for shelter, and four residents were evacuated from Port Royal. Two buses were stationed in the community to support any last-minute evacuation.

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