Farley: Committee reviewing fishermen claims for ‘relief, not compensation’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chief Secretary Farley Augustine

The Tobago House of Assembly division responsible for food security has established a committee to assess claims made by fishermen, whose livelihoods have been affected by the oil spill off Tobago.

The committee, THA chief secretary Farley Augustine said on Friday, is assessing those claims that should be funded from its request to the Ministry of Finance in the mid-year review.

Augustine said, however, he is no wiser than the Prime Minister or the Energy Minister regarding the overall value of compensation.

“I can’t give much details about what’s going on in the negotiations for compensation because we haven’t been party to those negotiations,” said Augustine.

“We have not been invited into the room. So we can only go with what we hear from public conversations via the Prime Minister or the Minister of Energy.”

Earlier this month, Energy Minister Stuart Young applied to IOPC Funds – an intergovernmental organisation based in the UK – seeking compensation.

Augustine referred to Rowley’s comments during his Conversations with the Prime Minister series in Tobago on Thursday, when the PM said the country expects to receive “a significant sum” in compensation for the oil spill first spotted on February 7, which has since forced the THA and central government to spend millions in clean-up efforts, with assistance from volunteers.

“I think we started out making a claim for an estimated US$30 million…that has since been reduced to the last figure I saw about US$23 million and when all is said and done, we know the actual expenses, we will know what the figure is,” Rowley said.

He promised the THA and state agencies would be reimbursed with the compensation fund.

“US$30 million might be more ideal than US$23 million,” Augustine responded,”but at this point, without confirmation in so far as to (Tobago’s compensation), it’s pretty difficult to estimate essentially how we will be able to move in terms of meeting the financial requirements.”

He said regardless of the figure, fisherfolk are seen as high-priority beneficiaries but insisted they must allow their claims to be assessed.

He stressed, however, that funding should not be characterised as “compensation”.

“Notice I’m using the term ‘relief’ and not ‘compensation,’” he said, adding that the term “suggests the THA somehow put the oil (and) vessel there and cause the disaster.

“We did nothing wrong to warrant the destruction that happened but certainly we appreciate that the industry requires some relief.”

He said the THA has already spent $17 million, “making what essentially would be first payments to most of our contractors, service providers. We tried our best to take care of all service providers and those who provided meals, transportation and those costs that were relatively small.”

He apologised to larger contractors for only being able to make small initial payments, while it awaits additional funding.