THA Finance Secretary: Tobago still waiting on promised $50m for oil spill clean-up

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A backhoe helps in the clean-up of an oily substance along the coast in Tobago in February. – Photo courtesy TEMA

Secretary of Finance, Trade and the Economy Petal-Ann Roberts says the THA has not yet received any of the $50 million from the government to assist with rehabilitation efforts arising out of the February 7 oil spill.

In a recent interview on the Tobago Updates morning show, PNM senator Laurence Hislop defended Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s decision to grant the THA $50m in the government’s mid-year review despite the assembly’s original request of $153m.

Hislop said while the $50m may not seem like much, it would help in clearing up some of the bills.

He said more funding will be made available in due course.

But on the Tobago Updates morning show on July 3, Roberts responded to Hislop’s statement that the THA will receive more than the $50m.

“We have not received the $50m and in light of that I don’t know that we can really hold our breaths and say we are going to get more,” she said.

“So I don’t know if he has the authority. I don’t know where he gets his information from but the fact of the matter to Tobago is that the THA has not yet received the $50m.”

Roberts said she was part of the multi-disciplinary team that dealt with financing for the oil spill.

She added she recently got an e-mail from a contractor asking for his outstanding payments.

“But I don’t know if we will receive any further funding.”

Roberts said as secretary of finance, she intends to write the Minister of Finance, through the Chief Secretary, to see what is the status of the funding.

Finance Secretary in the Tobago House of Assembly Petal-Ann Roberts after being sworn into office on June 29 at President’s House. – Photo by Faith Ayoung

Asked if she believes the THA should get additional funding, Roberts said, “I feel we should have, based on the claims that were made in terms of the oil spill, so I am hopeful that we should receive more than the $50 m going forward.”

In his draft estimates for fiscal 2024/2025 on June 24, Chief Secretary Farley Augustine accused the government of a crime against Tobago, saying the Government’s allocation to the THA for the oil-spill clean-up had fallen woefully short by over $100m.

An oil spill on February 7 from a barge that overturned off Cove Eco-Industrial Park, Tobago, polluted several kilometres of Tobago’s coastline, including several beaches, and also affected fishermen’s livelihoods.

He said so far $17m had been paid to contractors for the oil-spill clean-up, with $51.5m outstanding as of April 30, 2024. Some $16.5m more was projected since that date.

Augustine said $60m was needed to dispose of the captured hydrocarbon, which is being stored in open tanks at Studley Park.

He also accused the government of failing to give the THA “a reasonable, fair and just share” of national revenues. Augustine said the mid-year review should have seen Tobago being allocated $94m under the Dispute Resolution Committee mechanism.