PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — Chairman of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), Dr Keith Rowley, says no member state had been informed officially of an offer of 500,000 coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines from India.
The Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, said in his capacity as chairman of the 15-member regional grouping, he had spoken with all the heads of governments at their last inter-sessional summit last month about the genesis of the 500,000 vaccines from India and they all confirmed that there was no documentation, but that India’s High Commissioners to the respective Caricom countries were supposed to confer the bilateral arrangements with respective governments.
“There is nothing anybody could show you in this region at Caricom or elsewhere that there is any 500,000 vaccines available,” Rowley said
“After all this beating up, I asked all my colleagues, heads of Governments to the entire Caricom who was in the meeting, does anybody know or has anybody seen a document or has spoken to anyone in India about 500,000 vaccines. The answer is no,” Rowley said during his programme “A Conversation with the Prime Minister” on Thursday night.
“Not one Caricom head in that meeting could have said ‘I’ve seen an email, I’ve seen a letter. Not the Secretariat, not a prime minister. Where did that come from to become such a pillar of Trinidad and Tobago conversation? It came from the Caricom Secretariat,” Rowley told the programme that was carried live by radio and television stations here.
On February 13, the Guyana-based Caricom Secretariat tweeted a thank you to India for the facility of 500,000 vaccines to Caricom.
Rowley said he had asked the Secretariat about the social media posting and received a response from the Caricom Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque.
Rowley said that he was informed by the Secretariat that the Indian High Commissioner in Guyana was reported in the Guyanese media as saying that the vaccines would be made available to the region and that Guyana, Antigua, St Kitts and Nevis, the countries to which that High Commissioner was accredited, would receive donations
“This appears to be the source of that story,” Rowley said, adding that the Caricom Secretariat informed him that the arrangements were bilateral “And each High Commissioner would be responsible to the countries to which he or she is accredited.
“We have an ambassador here in Trinidad, if you are required, as happened in Guyana and the other small islands to know about this, then we should know about it here and there is a pathway.”
Rowley said the first time he heard about the vaccine was from local doctors whom the High Commissioner here, Arun Kumar Sahu, had spoken to, adding that the diplomat “did not speak to the Government about it”.
Prime Minister Rowley said that the second time he heard about it was from businessmen who were seeking to make arrangements to bring vaccines into the country.
The prime minister said Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne approached Sahu about the vaccine and the subsequent reports of the availability and was told “I don’t know”.
“Well, we then communicated directly to India to find out if this was available and if it was we are willing to participate. I can tell you there has been no confirmation of any such thing from India,” he said, adding that contact was also made with the suppliers and was told they could not take any more orders.
He said someone here had even offered to procure the vaccine for a US$1.8 million finder’s fee.
Rowley said it was also being said that Trinidad and Tobago did not access those vaccines because of where it was being made, telling the programme “all of a sudden it’s not that small countries being left out of the market and availability but it became an issue of race”.
The main opposition United National Congress (UNC) has been accusing the government of being tardy in its response to acquiring vaccines from India, but Rowley insisted that Trinidad and Tobago will acquire vaccines under the COVAX facility, which is being administered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).