THA to send oil-spill bill, eyes supplement $$ after mid-year review

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, right, helps wildlife specialists clean fuel oil from a young caiman at the wildlife hospital at Petit Trou lagoon on Tuesday. An oil spill caused by the overturned Gulfstream barge on February 7, near Canoe Bay, has affected the flora and fauna on the island’s southwestern coast. –

CHIEF SECRETARY Farley Augustine says the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) intends to give the government, ahead of its mid-year review, a financial breakdown of the money the assembly is likely to spend to contain the oil spill, so that more money could be put into its allocation.

He was speaking at a news conference on February 20 at Canoe Bay, metres away from the capsized barge – Gulfstream – which continues to pollute the waters off Tobago’s south-western coast with fuel oil, as revealed by Energy Minister Stuart Young.

The vessel was discovered on February 7, some 200 metres off the coast of the Cove Eco Industrial Park.

Since that time, the island, led by the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), has mounted a wide-scale containment and clean-up operation to eradicate the spill. The collaborative exercise includes several ministries, companies and agencies.

The Prime Minister, at a news conference in Tobago on February 11, said the government will support the THA’s efforts to rehabilitate the island as such an occurrence was not budgeted for in the assembly’s allocation.

On February 20, after a media tour of the affected areas, Augustine told reporters the THA will provide a financial breakdown to the government.

“We have coming up in a few months what is known as the mid-term review. That is where we go back to Parliament and reallocations happen by the Minister of Finance. So the process is as soon as this thing starts to settle down, I will now include in my requests of the central government as the mid-term review, the monies that we will expend to do this,” he said.

“We won’t necessarily wait until we get all of those monies from central government to act. We will have to act up front and in good faith, because I believe we can trust the word of the Prime Minister, when we make the requests and we send the bill down, we will get the requisite supplementary allocation to our budget. So that is the process in how that’s going to be done. We do have a few weeks left before those submissions will be made.”

Augustine said he met on February 19 with the Chief Administrator, TEMA officials and accounting staff to begin the process “So that I, as secretary for finance, will get it in a timely manner to be able to despatch to the Ministry of Finance so we get the requisite supplements to the budget.”

He said he does not yet have a cost for the rehabilitation efforts so far, adding the Procurement Act governs how goods and services are procured.

Augustine said he is not involved in the “actual procurement and day-to-day operations of what is required for this emergency.

“I am not a part of it so it is difficult for me to give that answer with certainty until more of that information makes its way up to the executive level.”

He said the THA is pursuing its own investigations to determine the owners of the Gulfstream and are “getting some leads,” which they will disclose at a later date.

“We are doing our own independent investigations. It is in our interest to do so. This is us minding our business.

“This Ministry of National Security will do what the Ministry of National Security is supposed to do by law. But as a body corporate established by Act 40 of 1996, we have our feelers out. I can tell you that we are getting some leads and at the most appropriate time, once we have the necessary confirmations….”

Augustine said he does not wish to speculate.

“For the things I am unsure I will ask questions publicly and strategically to see what answers I receive. But certainly at the appropriate time with the appropriate confirmations and surety in hand, I will disclose what our leads are leading to.”

He said the THA is keeping all of its legal options open,

“I would admit that we have been having conversations with our legal representatives about the matter. So we are definitely considering every bit of our legal options because this has had an impact on us. This has had a cost. This takes away time, effort, resources, energies.

“Naturally, we will have to consider all our options in recuperating those costs.”

Although several international agencies are involved in the eradication effort, Augustine said the oil spill, for now, is still being categorised as a tier-two disaster.

Asked if there is a reluctance to declare it as tier three, he said, “No, there is no reluctance not on my part to declare it a tier three at all, and certainly not from the central government’s part. I am not receiving any undue pressure not to declare it a tier three.”

But Augustine said there is a national oil spill contingency plan that has clear guidelines as to steps that should be taken to get to tier three.

“So what we are doing is to ensure that we take all of those steps so that we fall strictly in line with the national policy and the regulations as we have them.”