Local Government Minister Chandresh Sharma made this announcement at yesterday’s post- Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair.

A subsequent statement issued last night by the Ministry of the People and Social Development disclosed that Mario’s Pizzeria, National Flour Mills (NFM), Caribbean Packaging Industries (CPI) and Arima Discount Mart (ADM) have teamed up with Government in this unprecedented relief venture. ADM is donating $100,000 in cheese; CPI sponsored $25,000 in pizza boxes; NFM gave $25,000 in flour and Mario’s will cover all additional costs for ingredients and labour.

Kevon Fields, communications officer at the National Flour Mills (NFM), said the company is working together with Marios’s Pizzeria to bring relief to the flood victims.

“Mario’s would be distributing vouchers to flood victims and the NFM would be providing the flour which Mario’s would need,” Fields told Newsday.

People and Social Development Minister Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh will hold a news conference at his ministry’s Independence Square office today at 11 am to provide further details about this initiative which is geared to “provide immediate food relief to citizens in urgent need of relief.”

Stating that many persons have been asking how they can assist flood victims, Sharma earlier disclosed, “I understand that one of our corporate citizens, a pizza store, is making available 10,000 pizzas to bring some smiles to the kids. So if you have kids and you wish to obtain a pizza make sure you live in a flood prone area and send your request.” Newsday was reliably informed that persons who fit these criteria will receive pizza vouchers which they could take to any Mario’s Pizza outlet in Trinidad to obtain their pizza. Sharma said donations such as canned food and other non-perishable items can be made to all 14 local government corporations in Trinidad and at the offices of all 41 Members of Parliament.

He said Government is also asking contractors to make any equipment they have available to help in the clean-up activities. However as flood relief operations continue, Sharma vowed Government will not tolerate any corruption in the delivery of relief by agencies or from citizens who attempt to profit from the floods by making unjustifiable claims for compensation.

“All the claims are assessed by officers from the Ministry of Social Development and the People. There is a scientific measure. We go to the homes, look at the damage and look at the appliances of the people that might need assistance,” Sharma said. On the side of agencies or groups providing relief to flood victims, he declared, “It is strictly by the regular bids. For instance if there are drainage works to be done or reconstruction of roadways there is a process, so there will be absolutely no corruption.”

Sharma also said Cabinet approved a note from his ministry to give all local government corporations the resources they need “to respond intelligently” to any type of natural disaster. All corporations will soon have the necessary equipment, manpower and warehouse facilities to allow relief to reach affected persons in their region faster.

Sharma said flood volunteers in each local government jurisdiction such as doctors and off-duty police officers are being listed, so Government could have a clearer picture of the human resources available to each corporation. He added that training opportunities in areas such as the use of heavy equipment will be made available to citizens who volunteer to assist in clean-up operations. Recalling that the now defunct Caroni (1975) Ltd was once responsible for clearing drains on the 77,000 acres of land it once owned, Sharma promised that “every single drain in this country will be attended to.”

Sharma said Government was not worried about how the resources it was using to deal with the flooding, or the financial losses which Petrotrin suffered because of the floods would affect the the final composition of the 2011 Budget.

“It’s a bit too early to arrive at quantum. The fact is that we have found ourselves in an emergency which cannot be avoided. Cost must be incurred,” Sharma stated. He said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has instructed that all citizens affected by the floods must be attended to and there were costs attached to those efforts.

From making meals available to providing school books for students who lost books in the floods, Sharma said, “While the cost is to be considered, the larger concern is the safety and happiness of our citizens and we can’t put a dollar value to that.”

Press Secretary Garvin Nicholas added, “The reality is that if you spend five dollars in preventative work which is what the Government intends to do, then you can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages later on. That is the approach being taken by the Government.”

Nicholas said Sharma has also acquired several pieces of equipment that will allow the Local Government Ministry “to deal with the clearing of drains throughout the country.” Government officials said Finance Minister Winston Dookeran will still present the Budget in Parliament early next month as planned.

Referring to criticisms of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management’s (ODPM) response to the flooding, Nicholas said, “The role of the ODPM is to coordinate disaster management in the country. They are responsible for coordinating the various disaster groups and units in local government as well other agencies such as police and ambulance etc.”

Nicholas explained that while the ODPM is responsible for keeping the population updated about weather patterns, the Office of the Prime Minister “actually steps in when there is a disaster.” He said communications personnel from the Office of the Prime Minister have been liaising with their counterparts in the ODPM to ensure that the public is “ fully aware of what’s happening in terms of weather and weather preparations.”

Sharma did not rule out the possibility of Government reconverting the ODPM back into the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in light of the ODPM’s performance.

“The Government has a responsibility to improve the quality of service and the Government is in constant review of adding value. So whatever needs to be corrected or strengthened we will do that.”



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