By TOM GODFREY
Some Toronto charities are outraged that dozens of barrels and containers filled with food and clothing for their flood-stricken countrymen in St. Vincent were detained by Customs officials there for two days.
Residents of St. Vincent & the Grenadines are rebuilding their lives after a flash flood last Christmas Eve claimed the lives of eight people, including little Sharlani Headley, 2, of Toronto, who was swept away while on vacation with family members.
The storms led to widespread flooding and landslides that destroyed hundreds of homes.
Toronto volunteer Nicole Williams is pleased the badly-needed aid is finally reaching those affected the most.
“We know the food and clothing is getting out there now,” Williams told Share last week after the shipment was allowed to clear Customs. “We know the items got to those truly in need.”
Williams said disaster aid for flood victims from other countries were allowed entry into St. Vincent, except their Canadian shipment; on which taxes were threatened to be imposed.
She believes a tax levy was threatened because the drive was sponsored by the St. Vincent Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).
“Donors in Toronto are outraged to learn our goods were not being distributed,” Williams said in an interview. “It came as a shock to all Vicentians involved in fundraising activities to help those at home.”
She said there was an outpouring of support from Toronto residents after the flood and items were collected to help victims by church and other groups in Canada.
Williams said about 45 barrels and several containers arrived in St. Vincent on February 25 and sat on a dock for about two days as a levy was reviewed by government officials.
She said the supplies were donated to an NDP drive because some people do not have confidence in the state-run distribution agency.
“Organizations and churches abroad are being penalized for choosing to send supplies to an Opposition-sponsored flood relief,” Williams said. “We see no justification for the government to profit from food sent to alleviate the suffering of flood victims.”
Williams said a threat of taxes was dropped after Opposition leader Arnhim Eustace became involved and due to pressure from St. Vincent & the Grenadine residents.
“Vincentians in the Diaspora are disappointed,” Williams said. “The people in St. Vincent are saddened that items were stuck in Customs and preventing those in need from receiving help.”
Eustace called the tax for aid incident “a disturbing state of affairs”.
“I have been very concerned about the manner in which relief supplies donated by various institutions and individuals were distributed by the government,” Eustace said in a release. “The main criterion used is political party affiliation.”
He said “it is norm in this country for such supplies to be allowed into the country duty free, VAT free and free from any other imposts”.
Officials of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning said the shipment was released without taxes being imposed.