New finance secretary: Tobagonians in distress will get help

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Petal-Ann Roberts –

Despite the THA’s financial constraints, new Secretary of Finance, Trade and the Economy Petal-Ann Roberts says funding would be made available for Tobagonians who were seriously affected by Hurricane Beryl on July 1.

On the Tobago Updates morning show on July 3, Roberts said, “I really want to give my commitment as secretary of finance to let the public know that there is an opportunity cost (to hurricane relief). But we will make funding available to give support in times of this need.”

She said as finance secretary; she will also advise Tobagonians on the best options to access support.

“What I will commit to also do is if persons are not sure of where to go, through TEMA (Tobago Emergency Management Agency) and the Office of the Chief Secretary, I will give the information in terms of what type of support should be accommodated in which division so that persons will know where they should go or be directed to which division if they need that kind of support.”

Told, for example, that the Division of Settlements, Public Utilities and Rural Development already has a programme in partnership with Habitat for Humanity to help repair the roofs of damaged homes, Roberts said money will be allocated to the division to people whose homes were damaged during Beryl’s passage.

“Most definitely, that is how managing finances is in your personal life. Sometimes, you have to shift resources according to the circumstance. So because of the circumstances, as secretary of finance, I am committed to giving the support in whatever areas that are needed.

“However, I must say as well, if I am giving support in that area, it may mean that in another area that is very discretionary, that may have to suffer the loss because of the injection into the support because of Beryl.”

She said in light of the active hurricane season, “We will see that kind of management of the funds of the Tobago House of Assembly because of the fact that we have to manage in times of circumstance.”

Roberts, who previously served as chief management accountant in the Office of the Chief Secretary, said the THA has a contingency fund in which unspent balances are put for disasters such as Hurricane Beryl. But the fund only started last year.

“So you could imagine it is not much. As a matter of fact, that is where we would have funded part of the oil spill, only $15 million and at this time, the fund has gone down to bare bones.

“So for the last fiscal, we have to look at the available unspent because, according to the executive council, there is a percentage of funds that must go to contingency at the end of any fiscal period.”

Saying this will be one of the first items on her agenda, Roberts said she will also be looking at the overall financial status of the assembly “and treating with this emergency and anything that is to come.”

Roberts replaced Chief Secretary Farley Augustine as secretary of finance. Augustine gave up the position in a realignment exercise on May 13, 2024.