It really is dealing in triviality to focus more attention on the “TT must benefit” appendage than on the fact that we were pledging assistance.
Of course, there are differing motives for the comments inspired by her statement. A rather desperate Opposition Leader in TT, not unsurprisingly lashed out at Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, attacking her for her alleged inexperience and stating that she was insulting the islanders at the time of their need.
Some semblance of reason came from contractor Emile Elias, who has long argued for our Government to utilise and support the local construction industry. Elias said we should not donate money which might then be used to purchase cement from Venezuela and roof sheeting from China.
And of course he is absolutely correct. Our construction industry is not confined to contractors only, but includes manufacturers of cement, blocks, steel, electrical and plumbing components and even nails and screws. These manufacturers all have stock on hand, and workers facing layoffs. These are the materials, along with our construction capability, which are needed to rebuild houses damaged or destroyed by Tomas. But what we do not have to give is cash.
Only last weekend, Jack Warner, Minister of Works responding to appeals from the Contractors’ Association that the Government should first pay money owed to contractors before paying Clico depositors, put the issue clearly: “It is not a matter of who gets paid first or second. No one can be paid because there is no money to pay anyone.”
This makes it imperative that any assistance we intend to provide to anyone requires that they purchase their needed materials from what we hold in stock, and not from sources which would provide “benefits” to other countries. And indeed, no other countries have announced any intention to assist our neighbours in their hour of desperate need.
We have seen comments coming from several sources, condemning Persad-Bissessar for her “benefit TT” remark. We know that while the internet is a tremendous tool for information and knowledge, it is also a huge source of misinformation, and can be “managed” to mount campaigns which may be based upon bias and misinformation. And frankly we are not unaware that “hate” comments from the islands, especially Jamaica against Kamla’s statement could have originated from sources in TT with their own axe to grind, although we have no proof of that at this time. But the attacks did originate with us.
What is being lost in this storm over the words “benefit TT” is the fact that aid has already been sent from TT to the afflicted islands, and more is being planned.
We were the first, and indeed up to now the only provider of emergency aid to St Lucia and St Vincent. That we suggested we should “benefit” if possible from such aid, no way implies that we intend to exploit either the islands or the situation for our gain. We wish that everyone would try to understand this.