PORT OF SPAIN – Expect heads to roll at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) for its poor performance in alerting citizens of the flooding disaster which affected communities across eastern, central and southern Trinidad.
Prime minister Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday the Government will be taking “firm action” to review the operations of the ODPM because of its repeated failure to respond to flooding disasters.
Rowley, accompanied by several government ministers, went to Sangre Grande and Mayaro yesterday to get a first-hand account of the plight of residents whose homes have been flooded for five days.
Citizens have been expressing outrage following statements by ODPM deputy CEO Dave Williams. Williams hosted a press conference on Friday where he dismissed the widespread flooding which began to affect areas of the country on Divali night as not “a big thing” and said there were communication issues which prevented the organization from verifying reports.
In an apparent response to Williams’ statement, Rowley said, “I am convinced that we do not have the correct personnel in there and that we are not prepared to respond. We had adequate notice for this development and we ought not to be blaming it on communication. This is the age of cellphones. Every two-year-old has a cellphone. We really need to do better than that.”
Rowley said the Government was “not happy with the response mechanism especially after what happened with [Tropical Storm] Bret where we were slow on the draw in getting to people”.
The ODPM faced similar criticism in June after the passage of the storm where citizens were not informed in a timely manner of flooded areas.
“I think by now we should have within the public system, a kickstarting that is smooth, where we get notice of incoming weather systems,” he said.
Rowley said the Government will ensure the ODPM has the necessary personnel “who have the attitude and the aptitude to respond to this kind of disaster”.
“I would expect that this would be the last situation where we are responding so poorly,” he said, during an interview in Mafeking, Mayaro.
Before heading to Mayaro, Rowley visited Vega de Oropouche, in Sangre Grande to see what preparations there were and how it worked for people who needed shelter.
“I discovered that the designated shelter is the first place that will be flooded as it was close to the river,” he said. To make matters worse, he said, the community’s civic centre, which was located on higher grounds was not available to flood victims.
“The ODPM needs to ensure shelters are designated by common sense and that there will be no security guard to say that he or she cannot enter,” he said.
He said while there is a lot of blame and finger-pointing taking place, that was part of the course for some people for political survival.
Responding to a complaint in Mafeking that incomplete box drains were responsible for the flooding, Rowley said: “It is not the box drains but the Ortoire River which surrounds the village and for every 15 years this type of flooding will occur.”
He said in the coming days a lot of work will be taking place in the area washing, spraying and sanitizing so as to prevent the dust coming from the mud that might have health problems.
This will be followed by officers coming from the Social Development office to have assessments done for compensation, he said.
Accompanying the prime minister were minister of works and transport Rohan Sinanan, minister of rural development and local government Kazim Hosein, minister of agriculture Clarence Rambharat, Permanent secretaries and technical staff.
Contacted for comment yesterday following the prime minister’s criticism levelled against the ODPM, Williams said: “I don’t want to comment on that.”
Williams was on tour with the prime minister when Rowley raised his own concerns about the organization.
Asked whether he got a sense from the criticism that the Prime Minister wanted him to resign, he said, “I cannot speak for the Prime Minister. I don’t want to say anything about that anymore.”
Williams has been steadfast that he will not resign as the deputy CEO of the ODPM. He told the Guardian on Saturday, “personally there is no need for me to resign”.