Prime Minister Slams ODPM for “Repeated Failure”


Orders a Full Review of the Agency

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO — Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Monday said he will immediately order a full review of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), “to ensure we have in the ODPM, the personnel with the attitude and aptitude to respond to this kind of thing.”

A seemingly upset Rowley made this announcement to the press during a visit to flood-hit areas in East Trinidad, particularly in Manzanilla and Mafeking.

He was reported by the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday as saying his Government was displeased with the response mechanism of the ODPM to massive flooding caused by almost non-stop rainfall between last Wednesday and Friday.

Several areas in East, South and South West Trinidad remained under water this week.
The Newsday report said the tour started in Vega de Oropouche, then Manzanilla, Mafeking and Mayaro.

Rowley was reported as saying, “Especially what happened after (Tropical Storm) Bret where we were slow on the draw getting to people, I think by now we should have within the public sector system, a kick starting that is smooth where we get notice of incoming weather systems and we have structural arrangements in the Government for first responders.”

The Prime Minister added, “As a result of this repeated failure on the part of this agency, the government will take very firm action to review the ODPM and ensure that we have in the ODPM, the personnel with the attitude and aptitude to respond to this kind of thing. We cannot, in a situation when anything happens, the issue is what the ODPM did or what the ODPM did not do.”

The PM, according to Newsday, said he was convinced, “that we do not have the correct personnel in there (the ODPM) and that we are not prepared to respond.”

He added, “We had adequate notice for this development and we ought not to be blaming it on communication, because this is the age of cell phones, every two-year-old has a cell phone. We really need to do better than that.”

The Prime said he expects this “would be the last situation where we are responding so poorly.”

On Friday, according to the Newsday report, ODPM Deputy Chief Executive Officer Dave Williams at a press conference, said the slow response was due to “challenges in communication.”

In reviewing the disaster management systems, Rowley said, Government will ensure shelters are designated by common-sense and will be labelled as shelters so that no security guard could tell a family who comes there that he or she is not opening the place for them, as has happened.

“I blame this on the ODPM, because the ODPM should have put in place, when rain was not falling, arrangements so the community would know where shelters are.” Where people come, having been flooded out, to be told by a security guard that his boss did not approve it and therefore they cannot come in, Rowley said, is total failure.

Government will review, he said, all of this comprehensively and put things in place so there is no repeat of this situation. He said he was aware that there was a lot of blame and finger-pointing taking place. “That is par for the course. For some people it is political survival. For us, we are the Government and we have a responsibility,” Newsday quoted him as saying. There are a number of Government agencies, he said, providing relief and assistance. Local Government, municipalities and corporations, he said, did yeoman service. Once the response got started, he said, “we did in fact pick up.”

Rowley’s delegation included Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Kazim Hosein, Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat, Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan and Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon.

While the delegation was visiting places in the area and handing out cleaning supplies, water, boxed foods, canned foods and other supplies, other groups including one from the Mayaro/Rio Claro Corporation and a Muslim group were doing the same, Newsday reported.

They told the newspaper that they had been doing this since Friday. Residents gave Rowley and his team a warm response yesterday saying they were glad the government had visited as they need all the help they can get to recover from the flood disaster.