Individuals receive multiple benefits as Sandy victims remain roofless and homeless; Politicians lash state agencies
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
In a rare show of unity, politicians from Jamaica's eastern belt are unanimous in lashing agencies for their response to providing assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy and continuous heavy rains in Portland, St Thomas and St Mary - a process which appears to have become laced with corruption.
The politicians say less than a third of hurricane victims have collected more than $200 million in hurricane assistance while more than 12,000 remain without benefits as some individuals have received multiple $60,000 cheques for the same roof, while others have collected monies for damage they never had before.
Now, politicians from both the ruling People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) say one big mess has been created.
Members of Parliament Dr Lynvale Bloomfield (Portland East, PNP); Daryl Vaz (Portland West, JLP); James Robertson (St Thomas West, JLP); Silvera (St Mary West, PNP) and Portland Mayor Benny White (PNP) did not hold back in their criticism of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security for failing to verify information provided by the volunteers who are selected from non-governmental agencies such as the Red Cross and Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).
Vaz claimed some beneficiaries include people from homes with slab roofs.
The volunteers have been accused of ignoring victims with whom they share grievances, while some have only collected information on "church brothers and sisters".
The politicians say some real victims are suffering but information collected by volunteers and presented to the social security ministry has misrepresented the facts and caused undue misery.
"We know for a fact that many persons who have suffered damage from the hurricane have received neither a cent nor a tarpaulin from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. We also know that inaccurate information has been provided, and we know that correct information has not been provided," White told The Sunday Gleaner when contacted Thursday night.
Robertson was more caustic.
"Slackness and incompetence, that's what is happening. The state agencies have done no work, they have not verified the information provided and genuine victims are sleeping under the skies, and neighbours and friends are providing assistance that the state should provide," he said.
He said the National Insurance Office (NIS) in Morant Bay was, "weak, slack and ineffective."
The outspoken Vaz said the problem was systemic.
Bloomfield said the situation was a "total disaster".
He said in some instances victims have reported that "volunteers have walked right passed them and have not registered them". The first-term MP said he was "frustrated and infuriated by the pace of benefit to the victims".
Silvera said nearly 1,500 residents from his constituency were directly affected but very few have received any benefit.
"It's total chaos man," he said.
Now White has been mandated to conduct an audit of the information presented to the MLSS by the volunteers for presentation to state minister Luther Buchanan, who chairs the East Jamaica Reconstruction Task Force which meets at Jamaica House.
Buchanan told The Sunday Gleaner he was aware of some amount of duplication which required the detailed investigation "to maintain the integrity of the Government's contribution".
He said: "The truth is that the verification process was found wanting and I will admit that the first 5,000 beneficiaries 'got away' from scrutiny because you want to help very quickly."
Buchanan said this was why the process had slowed "because you have to subject the list to greater scrutiny".
He added: "I have no empirical data, but I don't think the duplication has amounted to more than one-tenth of the beneficiaries so far. It has happened, but it is not wholesale, hence the investigation."