Large numbers of residents of the flood-hit areas in Diego Martin, Glencoe, Maraval and other parts of the north-west are expressing angry concern and disappointment about the level of compensation being offered by the Government for the losses they suffered because of the flooding last weekend. Many are counting their losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for vehicles, household appliances and the damage done to their homes and properties by the flood waters. Such people scoff at the maximum $20,000 in compensation being offered by the Government. Over the decades of flooding and other forms of natural disasters, no standards have been established as a means of determining what level of compensation the State will offer to residents for their losses.
That has meant different strokes for different folks by governments in power and with the varying levels of compensation have come cries of discrimination by the groups. Complicating the compensation payments is the issue of verification of losses by residents. In a post flooding or other form of disaster situation, it is almost impossible for residents, farmers and others to produce the hard evidence of what was lost and the value of the losses as a means of making claims that can be substantiated. As has happened in hurricane-hit areas such as New Orleans and other places, there are those who have sought to exploit State assistance with astronomical and unverified claims. Far from saying that such practices would emerge in areas in Trinidad and Tobago, the reality is that people in difficult situations can take advantage of tragedy to make claims that are way above their actual losses.
Therefore, the State has to be very careful in meeting claims. But even beyond the issue of substantiating losses suffered there is the matter of the levels of expectation by residents as to what percentage of their losses would be borne by the government in office. It surely is not realistic for people affected by natural disasters to expect that the State would put them back in the same place they were before the losses. That does not happen anywhere in the world, notwithstanding the ability of the State to afford such compensation claims. Not even insurance companies make such levels of compensation available to their policyholders after losses suffered; and remembering that is a matter of policyholders who have diligently paid premiums over long periods of time. To expect a government, any government, to make good on all the losses of residents after a flood or a hurricane has done its worst is not realistic. To fulfil such expectation is a straight road leading to higher taxes and the running down of the Treasury. It also means a reduction of what a government can spend to provide for basic needs such as national security and education.
As it is with the prevention and/or mitigation of damage caused by flooding, so too is there an absence of systems and structures to compensate people who have suffered loss and need to be assisted to get back on their feet. Increasingly, it is becoming clearer that government and its institutions operate on the basis of how one administration, driven by a set of subjective factors, chooses to respond in a situation. Governance in the 21st century and in circumstances such as those which exist here requires predictability and scientific responses rather than be subject to the whim and disposition of one administration as opposed to another. The national community must be in a position to judge fairness based on stipulated criteria. When assistance is given on such a solid and transparent platform it can assist in dramatically reducing the possibility of contentions based on claims of bias.