Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Devant: Oil spill to be probed before compensation payouts
Any compensation for fisherfolk and other groups affected by the oil spill would come after the full investigation is complete, said Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj. “Before we arrive at a conclusion, the matter has to be investigated. We cannot respond emotively. Only a month ago, fishermen in the area were complaining of low catches, now they are compensated $2,000 a day.
“Compensation is not the normal practice at the ministry if you do not catch fish. This is an extraordinary event. If, on one hand, you were not catching because of seismic surveys, which was the allegation at that point in time, how is it now you could be asking for compensation when you were not catching?” he asked. Maharaj spoke at yesterday’s media appreciation function at the Orientation Centre, Botanic Gardens, Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.
At a press conference on Tuesday, acting Prime Minister Errol Mcleod announced that temporary housing would be provided for La Brea residents affected by an oil spill, which happened in December, and promised compensation for fisherfolk from Granville to Fullerton. Maharaj said it would be “irresponsible” of him to put a timeframe on when the investigation, headed by the Ministry of Energy, will be completed.
“The Ministry of Food Production is part of a team, headed by the Ministry of Energy as well as other ministries, like the Ministry of the Environment and other state agencies, such as Petrotrin. We are going through the process of evaluation and it is not something to be rushed.” He said he had no opportunity to visit the affected area, but other stakeholders were hard at work.
“I have spoken to the fishermen, but I have not gone down. The committee has to follow a process. They must be guided by a set of criteria in which to arrive at a conclusion. If they deviate from that, any other decision would be arbitrary and capricious,” he said. He said the Ministry of Food Production was not viewed as important as other ministries.
“Many people do not view this ministry as they view the sexier ministries. They would focus on Ministry of Energy because of the oil spill or the price of oil. Then they view the Ministry of Finance as important or the Ministry of Security. The Ministry of Food Production is deemed by the opinion makers as less worthy of attention, so we have to struggle for attention,” he said. He said the agriculture sector has had four consecutive quarters of growth.
“The ministry has also been able to reduce food inflation to single digits. In 2010, food inflation stood at 29 per cent. In October last year, it was three per cent. At the end of 2013, the agriculture sector expanded by 5.1 per cent over the previous year.”