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Slow Going! 89% Of COVID-19 Stimulus Recipients Still To Account For $$

Slow Going! 89% Of COVID-19 Stimulus Recipients Still To Account For $$

The Virgin Islands Party (VIP) administration has promised that there will be accountability and monitoring of the funds disbursed under the COVID-19 stimulus grant programme, but so far very few recipients have been forthcoming to give an account of how the monies were used.

Based on the information provided by Premier and Minister of Finance, Hon. Andrew Fahie, about 89% of the recipients are still to provide the requisite information to the Government.

“The Premier’s Office has received a number of responses from stimulus grant recipients. As at 28 March 2022, a total of 195 grant recipients have now responded,” Premier Fahie told reporters on Friday, April 22.

To date, 1,223 Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Businesses (MSMEs) received stimulus grants totalling $7,406,521, but according to Premier Fahie 120 of those recipients have responded to the Government’s call for information on how the monies were spent.

He shared that some 220 farmers received stimulus grants totalling $3,121,500. Based on the information provided by the Premier, 19 of those recipients have responded.

The Premier shared that 213 fishermen and fisherwomen received stimulus grants totalling $2,222,000 with nine respondents.

Grants totalling $530,359 were provided to 19 Day Cares/Pre-schools. Some 109 churches and religious organizations received stimulus grants totalling $1,599,000; and 12 private schools received grants totalling $362,459.

According to Premier Fahie, there were 33 responses from the church's grant recipients and 14 have responded for daycares/pre-schools.

The Premier outlined that four bulletins were circulated by the Government Information Services (GIS) between August 2021 and March 2022 reminding recipients of their obligation to report back to the Government via the Premier’s Office on how they spent the grant funding.

He explained that the action plan for the monitoring and evaluation of the various economic stimulus programmes, is a three-phase plan.

According to the Premier, under the first phase, reporting and data collection is taking place.

“The Permanent Secretary, Premier’s Office has written to all grant recipients reminding them of their obligations to provide an account for the use of funds and to participate in surveys and other exercises for monitoring and evaluation,” Premier Fahie stated.

Additionally, he said that feedback forms for each initiative have been sent to each grant recipient, and they are reminded to complete the forms and submit them. Submission can be done in electronic format and via the internet.

Respondents are being asked to provide details, with supporting documents, receipts and photographs where applicable, proof of payments such as statutory obligations, utilities, equipment, rent, mortgage, creditors, suppliers and staff.

They are also required to provide a statement of how the stimulus grant assisted their business or organisation in coping with the COVID-19 economic challenges.

“Farmers and fisherfolk are required to submit details of their operations such as acreage farmed and crops, or catch respectively,” the Premier stated.

Additionally, the Premier’s Office has requested assistance from the Agriculture and Fisheries Department with conducting site visits to the farms and fisherfolk for inspection of their premises to verify the use of the stimulus grant funding they received.

CoI & The Grants

During the height of COVID-19 pandemic, the government secured a $40M special grant from the BVI Social Security Board (BVISSB) to address specified initiatives.

Premier Fahie stated that a total of $15,241,839 was expended in the COVID-19 Economic Stimuli for MSME businesses, farmers and fishermen, daycares, pre-schools, private schools, churches and religious organisations.

The grants were subjected to an Auditor General’s probe. The grant was one of the hot button topics at the United Kingdom’s Commission of Inquiry (CoI) which probed allegations of corruption by government and senior officials.

The Premier's Office, which administered the grant initiative, has been accused of significantly inflating the payments so that they exceeded the amounts individuals actually applied for.

Auditor General, Sonia Webster in her report dated June 21, 2021, on the stimulus grant to farmers and fisherfolk noted that farmers were paid in some cases, three times the amount they requested from Government.

Counsel to the CoI, Bilal Rawat, highlighted part of the report which identified a sample of requests made by 70 farmers which totalled $351,713. However, according to Rawat, the amount actually paid to those 70 individuals totalled just over $1M.

According to Webster, the qualification for the grant was that you either had to be registered with the Agriculture Department or present an affidavit that you are indeed a farmer for the past three years.

Webster stated that there was no information received as to how unregistered farmers qualified for the grant award.

Opposition Criticisms

Opposition Leader, Hon. Marlon Penn maintains that legitimate farmers and fisherfolk have not received help from the grant.

Following the circulation of two lists proportion to be that of beneficiaries of the stimulus package, Premier Fahie said that the lists were incomplete.

However, the final list and amounts were never made public by the Government, despite promising to do so.


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