The cost of disaster relief

Melanius Alphonse, The Lucian People’s Movement - The overwhelming loss of life and destruction wrought on the Caribbean island of Dominica by Tropical Storm Erika is utterly heart wrenching and would I like to convey my sincere condolences to the people of Dominica.  Many years of reconstruction lie ahead at a towering cost and likewise the opportunity to reconsider the development model, infrastructure investment, community risk assessments and climate change adaptation.

Without any way seeking to minimize the devastation and human suffering brought to the Caribbean island of Dominica by Tropical Storm Erika, it must be pointed out, however, that the country’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, is not above using the tragedy to advance an unrelated agenda in relation to his nominee for the post of Commonwealth secretary general, Baroness Patricia Scotland, itself an opportunistic move attempting to piggyback on her hitherto forgotten Dominica birthplace.

On August 28, 2015, Skerrit published a letter announcing the appointment of Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal as Dominica’s “international relief coordinator”.  From inception it can be agreed upon now is the time to raise the bar on accountability and to proceed with a conversation that understands the scope and key aspects, ensuring crystal clarity, the rationale behind the set responsibility and the available resources to achieve the required objective.  In Britain, most life peers such as Baroness Scotland take a title based on their last name, either alone or in combination with a place name to differentiate them from others of the same last name. When Scotland was made a life peer in 1997, she chose to add the name Asthal, a village and civil parish in Oxfordshire, England.

There is no Asthal listed as a place name in Dominica.  Some 18 years ago there was apparently no thought in Scotland’s mind that she would want to be associated with the country of her birth, not even by choosing a geographic homonym such as Portsmouth or Salisbury, thus affording the appearance of identifying with her homeland.  Is Scotland, Britain’s first female attorney general, the right person to be coordinating relief efforts?

First of all, “international relief coordinator” ought to be a full time job, with distinct programs, structures and strategic plans that identify clear goals. The function of such should not be that of an ad hoc approach to advance political priorities, security and short-term expediency, the ramifications of which will be borne in the long-term by future generations.  Does this mean, therefore, that Scotland will no longer be actively campaigning as a candidate for Commonwealth secretary general? Further, in the unlikely event she is elected as such, she can hardly perform both functions, which implies that both she and Skerrit hope her job as “international relief coordinator” will only last a few months. What happens then?  And who takes personal ownership to ensure responsibilities and accountability are achieved as expected? If the preliminary scope of the devastation has a best guess estimate spanning at least two decades, is the long-term development undermined and at what cost.?

In most circumstances, pursuing foreign aid is grounded in national interest and accountability. Against this background these must be taken in context when advancing social and economic development mainly financed by foreign aid.  Second, Scotland is Britain’s first attorney general to be convicted of breaking a law she herself had helped to bring in as a Home Office minister when she failed to ask for and verify any of the ANY of the six documents that entitled her illegal foreign housekeeper to work in Britain, who she paid just two thirds of the going rate in London and barely above the national minimum wage. So much for foreign aid! Or more opportunism?

Team Scotland has tried to spin this conviction as “an administrative penalty for the technical breach”, apparently seeking justification in the fact that the foreign housekeeper in question had a fraudulent passport. A surprising assertion from a former attorney general that two wrongs apparently make a right.  Third, according to British media reports, Scotland, who was a Home Office minister before becoming attorney general, wrongly claimed some £170,000 (US$255,000) since 2004. The £38,280 a year over-claim is only for ministers who have a primary residence outside the capital. Scotland has a £2 million (US$3 million) home in Chiswick, West London.  Fourth, her campaign team has made much of Scotland’s work in and for the Caribbean, including Jamaica and Trinidad Tobago, as if it were pro bono. What Team Scotland failed to mention is that these “good works” were all highly paid legal consultancies.  In brief, is the position of “international relief coordinator” really pro bono or a paid consultancy?  Will any fees and expenses be deducted from the aid donations?

After all, it is hardly unknown for massive post disaster donations to be largely used up in expenses, or even outright diversion: Trinidad MP accused of diverting funds for Haiti earthquake victims; How the Red Cross raised half a billion dollars for Haiti and built six homes; Mind-numbing incompetence in Haiti – and that’s just Haiti.  What checks and balances, principles and reform practices are in place in relation to the Dominica relief effort and beyond?

We don’t need another Haiti.

 

*The Views Expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Silent Crow News editorial policy.

 

 

 

 

 

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