In an official statement released today, the Premier defended his office’s handling of the programme stating that “it was not excessively lax or too generous in the provision of public funds” under the “terrible circumstances” of COVID-19.
“People faced real suffering because of the COVID emergency, and it was our duty to help. I would have done more, not less, if I could,” the Premier asserted.
“Yes, we had to relax the conditions we would normally impose on spending public funds. But the UK government implemented similar schemes in its own country – putting speedy help to as many people as possible first, ahead of exact assessment in each case of how much any individual claimant should receive. So they too had to relax the conditions,” he added.
His statement follows the Auditor General’s report that the Premier’s Office violated procedure and inflated its payments to recipients — a large number of whom were unlicensed and unregistered.
But according to the Premier, there have been many misinformed allegations.
Specifically addressing the Auditor General’s finding that some fishermen on the same boat received grants for the same equipment, the Premier said: “In many cases cited by the Auditor, the masters or owners and the crew members each own their own boat and applied for help with different engines on their different vessels. Yet, unfortunately, that does not appear to have been checked by the Auditor General.”
“The emergency aid package to farmers and fishermen was specifically intended to deliver an immediate shot in the arm to keep economic activity going in these vulnerable sectors, to increase the numbers who were registered with the Government, and to provide encouragement to farmers and fishermen who had ceased to be active due to the 2017 hurricanes and increase local production. The policy succeeded in those goals. We can all see how local produce has become more common. This shows that our efforts to improve local food security are working, so that we are less dependent on external supply chains,” Fahie stated.
The Premier went on to defend grants awarded to other groups such as churches.
“Could the schemes have been technically better executed? Possibly. We need a modernised and well-trained public service with much better technical skills. But in the crisis that engulfed us in March last year, the public service did its best. Its only motivation was to get help to as many people in these sectors as fast as it could,” Fahie stated.