PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Tuesday October 24, 2017 – As residents across heavily flooded communities in eastern, central and southern Trinidad continue mop up operations on the heels of torrential rains, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) appears set to undergo a clean-up of a different kind.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley strongly hinted that a shake-up could be on the cards for the government agency after he voiced his disapproval of its handling of disasters.
Rowley, who was accompanied by OPDM representatives and other government ministers as he toured hard hit communities on Sunday, said he would be taking “firm action” to review the agency’s operations because of its failure to respond to flooding disasters.
The Prime Minister’s chiding came as the ODPM deputy CEO Dave Williams came under heavy criticism from residents in the affected areas when he dismissed the widespread flooding as not “a big thing” and said there were communication issues which prevented the organization from verifying reports at a press conference last Friday.
In an apparent response to Williams’ statement, Rowley told reporters: “I am convinced that we do not have the correct personnel in there and that we are not prepared to respond. We had adequate notice for this development and we ought not to be blaming it on communication. This is the age of cellphones. Every two-year-old has a cellphone. We really need to do better than that.”
The Prime Minister stressed where is there is notice of a weather system, there should be a smooth rollout of a plan to respond.
Rowley said the government will ensure the ODPM has the necessary personnel “who have the attitude and the aptitude to respond to this kind of disaster.”
“I would expect that this would be the last situation where we are responding so poorly,” he said.
Williams, who was on tour with the Prime Minister, was tightlipped about the criticism.
Asked whether he got a sense that the Prime Minister wanted him to resign, he said: “I cannot speak for the Prime Minister. I don’t want to say anything about that anymore.”
Williams has been adamant that he will not step down as the Deputy CEO of the ODPM. He told the Trinidad Guardian newspaper last weekend that “there is no need for me to resign.”