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ODPM boss defends lease of 25-seater bus, trailer truck

Sunday, December 8, 2013
Dr Stephen Ramroop, chief executive officer, ODPM.

Concerns have been raised over the lease of a 25-seater bus and a trailer truck at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM). Questions are also being raised as to why millions of dollars are being pumped into the ODPM when it has no legislative authority. The office which was set up by Cabinet in January 2005 falls under the Ministry of National Security. 



Since June 2011 the agency has been leasing the bus to shuttle 26 disaster risk coordinators all over the country. The cost of the lease ranges from $10,000 to $16,000 monthly. This is a total of $300,000 to $480,000 for the last two-and-a-half years. A trailer truck is also being leased, and some have said that the monies used for this exorbitant rental could have been better utilised to purchase vehicles, which will be the property of the ODPM.


In an interview, ODPM’s Chief Executive Officer Dr Stephen Ramroop confirmed that the bus and a trailer truck have been leased since 2011. The bus is used to transport ODPM’s risk management team during times of disaster. The trailer truck is utilised for educational seminars and transporting valuable scientific equipment. 


When asked the cost of leasing the bus, Ramroop was unclear. He said, “That bus is leased for less than $15,000 or $16,000 per month. I believe that is the cost, but I’m not sure. Maybe it is less than $10,000 per month. It is not very expensive.” He refused to divulge the cost of leasing the trailer truck or the companies that provided the vehicles, saying he would be happy to supply all information once it is requested under the Freedom of Information Act.



Ramroop: Leasing is more practical than buying
Defending a decision to lease rather than purchase the vehicles, Ramroop said leasing the bus was more practical because in the event of a disaster, the leased vehicle can be readily replaced by the supplier. 



“The value of leasing is that the lessor can replace a vehicle at any time, so if there is a disaster 24/7 on weekends or any time and something is wrong with the vehicle, if it shuts down, the lessor can replace that bus with another bus of the same type. If you purchase a vehicle and something is wrong with it, then you have to get another one or do without,” Ramroop said.


He added that the ODPM does not have its own set of funds but depends on the ministry to finance its projects. Even though T&T has not experienced any major disasters, Ramroop said it would be foolhardy not to prepare. He said most disasters happen at night, and the ODPM’s risk managers, who are all well qualified scientists, needed immediate transportation to coordinate risk management protocols. He said even though hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent to lease the bus, it was being well utilised.


He explained that in June 2011, two months after he took office, a programme called Communities Organised and Ready for Emergencies (Core) was launched. “The ODPM team has visited 56 communities in the most vulnerable areas to educate them about disaster management response, and the bus was used to transport everybody,” Ramroop said.


“The ODPM team works from 8 am to 4 pm. Our ODPM staff has to pick up people at Red Cross and other volunteers to visit these communities. We use the bus to transport paraphernalia like banners, booklets and mike. We walk down the street house to house in 56 areas across the country, from Diego, Cedros, Siparia, Mayaro. The team is as much as 26 or 30 people.”


He added, “We use the bus when we are going to do presentations, but the biggest problem is if a disaster occurs, we have transport. If you buy a bus and it gets into an accident or a disaster occurs after that, what will you do? Ask PTSC to carry your people? Ask PTSC to pick up the people in a disaster? You have to have a lease to ensure sure transportation.”



ODPM has no legislative authority
On the issue of millions of dollars being pumped into the ODPM which has no legislative authority, Ramroop said the ODPM was a cabinet appointed committee which has legal standing. 



“There is legislation which makes it legal. The Disasters Measures Act is an Act of Parliament which allows the President of the Republic, in the event of a disaster, to appoint an agency to manage the disaster. Whenever there is a disaster, the President will declare that the ODPM has to take the lead in the disaster and manage other agencies,” Ramroop said. He admitted, however, that the ODPM has no legislative authority. 


“Our funding comes from recurrent transfers and security, which comes under the Ministry of National Security. We have to do tendering under the Ministry of National security. We don’t write cheques, the ministry writes the cheques. The ODPM exists legally as an entity of Cabinet,” Ramroop said.


He said because of the absence of legislative authority, the ODPM could not regulate conduct. Ramroop said most employees were still on month-to-month contracts. He said they were awaiting a transformational restructure which would make the ODPM a constitutional authority.




Since 2011 recommendations have been made to give legislative power to the ODPM. In a July 2011 report compiled by the Joint Select Committee to Parliament, headed by Dr James Armstrong, officials stated that legislative amendments were required to effectively streamline response teams. The ODPM was asked to submit to Cabinet the Comprehensive Disaster Management Policy which would entail a proposal for the amendment of 27 Acts and the disbanding of National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA). 


It was recommended that draft legislation be tabled in the Parliament to give recognition to the ODPM as the replacement to the NEMA. The committee also recommended that ODPM be given authority to request and be regularly provided with real-time access to information from ministries as necessary. However, this legislation has not yet been passed. Efforts to contact National Security Minister Gary Griffith for comment proved futile as calls, text and an e-mail sent to him went unanswered. 


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