STATEMENT BY THE PREMIER HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
COVID GRANTS WERE “PROVIDED IN GOOD FAITH TO MEET REAL NEEDS”
7TH OCTOBER, 2021
When COVID-19 hit our islands, the Government acted swiftly to provide help, including money not only to assist hard-pressed farmers and fishermen but also to expand the numbers of both to ensure a stronger and more reliable local food supply. We also wanted to help our Churches, of every denomination, whose outreach work to support communities is so important, and also day care centres, schools and religious organisations.
We have been criticised for what we did by the Auditor General.
The people must be told the facts. The Government provided help in good faith to meet real needs.
In those terrible circumstances, it was not excessively lax or too generous in the provision of public funds. 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.
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. The National Audit Office in the UK says the UK Government schemes resulted in a bonfire of public money and that many thousands who did not need it or deserve support received the money.
But the UK Government did not provide grant money to help the BVI, and those wanting us to follow the UK’s standards of governance should not expect us to have taken a very different approach from the UK Government faced by the same global emergency.
We had to do just the very same thing they did. We had to get the money to the people as soon as we could even if it meant that some who didn’t need it, or need as much, would benefit.
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.
There have been many misinformed allegations.
The allegation that some fishermen on the same boat received grants for the same equipment is answered by the fact that, 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 unfair allegation has been made in the Auditor General’s report that churches received “unsolicited and extravagant public grants” and that this presented “a threat to their political independence”.
Churches of all denominations received help; all needed it to support their work in the community during a great crisis; no political voice has said that it was wrong to make these payments.
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.
No reasonable or genuinely impartial observer of these matters, having looked at the facts, could possibly conclude that we were wrong to make payments in the ways we did.”