IN the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Gilbert on September 12, 1988, a number of unscrupulous persons used the opportunity to corrupt the distribution of relief supplies, which resulted in a number of needy persons being left out in the cold.
Almost every roof of homes, churches, schools, and other buildings were blown off by Gilbert's fierce winds, in a natural disaster which was widely regarded as having caused the most damage to infrastructure in the island's history, compared to Hurricane Charlie in 1951 and the Port Royal earthquake which sunk an entire city.
International donor agencies, individual donors and a number of countries showered Jamaica with relief supplies, which were more than enough to spread around to those in need.
Probably apprised of the corrupt nature of some Jamaicans, the United States Black Congressional Caucus challenged the Government of the day to ensure that distribution of hundreds of tons of relief supplies, that were stored in containers at the wharves, was carried out by volunteers, while other donor agencies threatened to suspend sending relief supplies if volunteers were not entrusted with handling the distribution.
The agencies also called for incoming relief to be audited, while a United States Embassy official was quoted at the time as describing Hurricane Gilbert as the most audited natural disaster in history.
However, many persons did not receive their fair share of relief supplies, while some persons did not receive any relief at all.
The Michael Manley-led People's National Party Government, which had unseated the Edward Seaga-led Jamaica Labour Party Administration months after the hurricane's passage, had set up a system where hurricane and food stamps were to be handed out to needy persons by their members of parliament.
Zinc and roofing material were also supplied to hardware merchants and, through hurricane stamps of varying monetary value, victims were able to access limited supplies.
Food stamps were also supposed to be redeemable at grocery stores for a narrow range of food items.
But the process was completely corrupted by both 'victims' and merchants.
For example, a hurricane stamp with a value of $1,000 would be cashed in by hardware stores for 20 or 25 per cent less of the value, and the hardware owner would then pocket the difference, still have the relief zinc to sell, while the 'victim' could use the cash to purchase goods for other than the intended purpose.
In other cases, political activists and party faithful, most of whom were not in need, were given the bulk of the stamps.
In total, $350 million worth of zinc, which was to be distributed to the real victims of Hurricane Gilbert, never reached the intended recipients in what became widely known as the 'Zinc Scandal'.
A commission of inquiry was set up by the Attorney General's Office to ascertain if any corruption was involved.
The commission did issue a report some four years after the hurricane had passed but no one was found culpable.
The incident sparked rumours that some of the zinc had been dumped in the sea, while other portions ended up on the roofs of the well-to-do and persons in positions of authority.
Food stamps were handled no differently, and supermarket and groceries cashed them or exchanged them for cigarettes, white rum and other luxury items which were not on the list of approved goods for which the special hurricane relief was intended.