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Petroleum fund fuels concern for T&T

Published:Tuesday | July 6, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Trinidad PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar. -MPhoto by Janet Silvera

Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter

MONTEGO BAY, St James:

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has expressed concern about the use of money allocated to regional governments through CARICOM's petroleum fund.

The CARICOM Petroleum Stabilisation Fund was established by former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning in 2004 to provide relief to the bloc's member states experiencing economic hardship resulting from high international prices for crude oil and petroleum products.

Last December, the Manning administration offered support to Jamaica from the petroleum fund if more money was needed to meet the requirements for a loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Jamaica did not take up the offer, but other Caribbean countries, including Guyana and Haiti, have benefited from the multimillion-dollar fund.

But Persad-Bissessar told her colleagues during Sunday's opening of the 31st meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in Montego Bay that she was less than impressed with the accountability surrounding the use of the money.

She warned that while her administration was firmly committed to the fund, it could not be business as usual.

"I believe there needs to be greater accountability as to how the funds are being used so that the resources spent are allocated in accordance with what are the most urgent areas of need in our region," Persad-Bissessar said.

Environmental focus

She argued that funds could be directed to a range of initiatives, including environmental projects.

"It is ironic that for islands so dependent upon our natural environment, so little attention is paid to the development of a sustained regional initiative in this area," she said.

According to Persad-Bissessar, the education sector could be another beneficiary.

Referring to the Children's Life Fund established in Trinidad to provide money for surgeries for children, Persad-Bissessar questioned why a similar scheme could not be established across the Caribbean.

"I am sure the citizens of every one of our Caribbean territories would welcome such an initiative so that children in urgent need of medical attention can access it.

"Imagine what it means to a parent to be told their child is going to die because the medical attention required cannot be accessed due to lack of funds. I can think of no better way to utilise the resources of the petroleum fund. And, again, I urge that we explore this initiative."

arthur.hall@gleanerjm.com