December 5, 2016
MEDIA RELEASE: Independent investigation needed into Help for Homes Initiative
Government must institute an independent investigation to determine how many millions of dollars of taxpayer funds has been paid to two hardware companies despite them failing to supply building material under the Help for Homes Initiative specifically designed for swift rehabilitation following devastation caused by Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston.
The Attorney General and Minister for Economy’s announcement that hardware companies Vinod Patel and R C Manubhai will not be part of the 2 nd phase of this Initiative and would have to pay a nominal interest and penalty due to their failure to provide hardware material to victims of TC Winston is simply not good enough. The AG’s statement is like “shutting the gate after the horse has bolted”.
These two largest hardware companies in the country have already been paid millions of dollars after they swiped the Help of Homes Initiative cards despite knowing fully well that they did not have the rebuilding material. This is similar to obtaining money under false pretences. Any ordinary citizen who would have done the same thing, would have been swiftly charged and hauled before the Court. It also shows Government’s calling for expression of interest and selecting companies to supply material appears to have been a cosmetic exercise because it failed to ascertain whether each company had the stock necessary to supply material. And in the event it was out of stock, what was the timeframe to obtain, import and supply material?
Cyclone victims are still waiting for supply, six months after they visited these hardware outlets and purchased building material under the Initiative. Many are still living in tents and temporary shelters, and even under the open sky because the small tents are being used for safekeeping of their household items. But the hardware companies have already been paid.
The AG is treating this as a trivial matter when it is an issue of rebuilding lives. He should be transparent and accountable to the taxpayers and inform the nation how much each of the two hardware companies ( Vinod Patel & R C Manubhai) have been paid from the $88 million provided under phase one of the Initiative. And what is the total amount paid to each of the two companies for non-supply of material.
The AG must also revisit his statements on this issue from April 2016 and how he glorified the whole Initiative and the ability of Government and hardware companies to help the victims swiftly rebuild their homes. At the same time Government moved the False Information Bill in Parliament, which was enacted on 26 th April, prescribing heavy fines and imprisonment terms for people who falsified claims of damages to their properties.
The Opposition had then pointed out in Parliament that while Government was going beyond the Crimes Decree to penalise people under the False Information Act, there was no legislation prescribing strict compliance by hardware companies to the Help for Homes Initiative. We had also pointed out that Government should have accepted our suggestion of providing a sum of $5,000 each to TC Winston victims to rebuild homes. This would have allowed people to shop for building material at different hardware outlets and would have been more efficient and effective.
The seconnd phase of Help for Homes Initiative is worth $20 million. But the first phase was worth $88 million. The two largest companies of R C Manubhai and Vinod Patel would have enjoyed the largest share of funds worth $88 million allocated for the Initiative, given their dominance of the local hardware industry. It is only fair that an independent investigation is instituted into the Initiative to establish claims of possible corruption and mismanagement as well as why and how these two companies received payments without supplying building material. Government seemingly ignored concerns raised by the Opposition very early into the Initiative that cyclone victims were not being supplied the material they paid for with the Help for Homes Initiative cards.
No business must ever be allowed to charge money for service it cannot provide. To do so would be considered a scam.
Authorised by: – Hon Professor Biman Prasad, NFP Leader