No EU Paloma funds requested

The government has not applied for a European Union grant to help rebuild Cayman Brac following the devastation of Hurricane Paloma.

The government is awaiting a final damage report that might form the basis of an application for aid, according to Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson.

‘We have not applied for the grant as yet because we were waiting on a report that details the extent of the damage on the Brac,’ he said. ‘We wanted that report to accompany any application that is made. We have only just got the report completed.’

Trustees of the National Recovery Fund, which administers relief money for disasters, recently discovered that any money spent after an application for an EU disaster grant is made is potentially reimbursable.

If an application had been made shortly after Paloma struck in November, money donated thereafter by the private sector and government could have been reimbursed into the National Recovery Fund, replenishing its coffers for future disaster relief, according to Huw Moses, a trustee of the Fund.

Asked why the report had taken so long to compile, Mr. Jefferson replied: ‘It takes time to go around and assess damage, to do it properly.’

A government assessment of the damage on the Brac, released in February, showed that of the 1,207 buildings on the Island, only 195 escaped unscathed, while 56 were destroyed; 182 sustained major damage; 231 had medium damage; and 543 had minor damage.

So far, the National Recovery Fund has spent about $600,000 of the $800,000 raised by the private sector and government to rebuild 30 destroyed homes.

Mark Laskin, executive director of the National Recovery Fund, said the Fund needs approximately $4 million to deal with Brac damage.

Mr. Jefferson said it was likely that a decision on whether to apply for a grant would fall to Cabinet, which has not considered the matter.

The Fund recently received final payments of an Ivan-related grant from the EU, totalling approximately $2.7 million.

‘We are adding that $2.7 million to the $800,000 raised from the private sector and that is what we have right now to spend on the Brac,’ Mr. Moses said.

He added that if the government had applied for an EU grant, and that money took as long to arrive as the grant for Ivan, it would still mean that there would be money in the Fund’s coffers for future hurricanes or other disasters.

Under the conditions of the grant for Ivan, the money could only be spent on people who were owner-occupiers of homes damaged in Ivan; were uninsured; and below a certain income level. This caused major headaches for the recovery fund, especially when the EU informed it that the money, the final tranche of which arrived early last month, had to be spent by 31 March.

The EU sent seven million euros to Cayman following Ivan in seven tranches of one million euros. The first payment did not arrive until last year – nearly four years after the hurricane wrecked Grand Cayman.

However, Mr. Moses said it had recently been discovered, as the final tranches of EU cash arrived, that money that had already been spent, and that met the grant criteria, could be reimbursed by the EU grant.

‘Assuming the grant contract works in the same way this time, we have the money we have spent between the time we applied for the grant and the time of the first funding. That would mean the money we now spent becomes reimbursable again for us in the new Paloma EU grant.

‘We could find ourselves suddenly in 2012 that we have two or three million dollars to use on the Brac. It would go into the recovery fund for the next natural disaster,’ Mr. Moses said.

The government has in the past been scathing about the bureaucracy, red tape and delays involved in security funding from the EU for Ivan damage.

‘Every dollar we are spending on the Brac, we can obviously never get back. An application [for an EU grant] has not been filed, as far as I am aware,’ Mr. Moses said.

He added: ‘Every day that we have not put in an application is a day of spending money that we lose an opportunity to get back in due course.’