Statement By Honourable Andrew A. Fahie On COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Grant

FOURTEENTH SITTING OF THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE

TUESDAY 22 SEPTEMBER 2020

COVID-19 ECONOMIC STIMULUS GRANT

 

Mr. Speaker, I wish to update this Honourable House on the launch of Government’s COVID-19 Stimulus Grant payment where all qualifying Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs) businesses will be receiving some degree of help from the limited allocation we are able to make available amidst the challenges of the global pandemic.

Mr. Speaker, your Government is happy that we are able to deliver this support to our small businesses, which – and we cannot say it enough – is the backbone of our economy.

It was not an easy road, as some of you may have imagined. It took a lot of work to get the policies and the measures in place so that we can come to you as we are doing now.

This is why, I would like to say the “Thank Yous” first today.

First and foremost we must thank God as without Him nothing is possible.

Special thanks and commendations must go to our Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development, Honourable Shereen Flax-Charles, for doing such a stellar job in pushing this small business initiative forward. She is very much excited about the sector and we continue to support her efforts and proactive actions in moving Government’s agenda forward and helping our Territory’s businesses to survive these challenging times of COVID-19.

I also wish to thank the committee of public officers, and there was so many of them, starting with the Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Premier’s Office Dr. Carolyn O’Neal-Morton, and also Senior Policy Analyst/Strategic Adviser in the Premier’s Office Ms. Lizette George, our Director of Trade Mrs. Karia Christopher, Ms. Patlian Johnson, the staff at the Ministry of Finance – especially Mrs Phillip, and the staff at the Department of Information Technology, who have helped us tremendously and the list goes on.

All of them worked tirelessly to ensure that all the items which are needed for this initiative to be transparent and accountable, are in place, with the Premier’s Office serving as Chair through the PS, and the Ministry of Finance, and the Department of Trade, Investment Promotion, and Consumer Affairs facilitating the design and implementation of this programme.

Transparency and accountability in this programme, along with the help of the Department of Information Technology, are essential to ensure the effective administration and management of the process.

I thank this hard working Committee because while many were working hard, others were just talking – reminding me of a book I read that said, “Never mistake the absence of noise for the lack of activity.”

So we thank this hard working Committee for pressing forward through the noise. There is a saying that, “It is always easy to be shouting from the sidelines. It is not the same thing as playing in the field.”

I also wish to thank the Members of my Government for supporting this important initiative as we now release the grants to allow qualifying businesses to move forward.

I thank the BVI Social Security Board for making the $6.5M grant available toward this initiative.

Mr. Speaker, the COVID-19 global pandemic caused the premature closure of the local tourism sector as well as the shutdown of international travel and global tourism. Internationally, economies and economic activity have been affected by the preventative restrictions and the BVI is no exception.

Understandably, this has had a significant impact on the revenue streams and viability of businesses; and small businesses do not have big cushions to fall back on.

I thank the businesses for their patience as we worked diligently to keep this process as accountable and transparent, and as fair, and as objective as humanly possible.

The Small Business Sector Grant Programme was established for the purpose of assisting Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in meeting operational expenditure, while stimulating economic activity by facilitating the circulation of money within the Territory.

On 14, September, I announced, as Premier and Minister for Finance, that we had 1,039 approved MSMEs businesses from the Phase II of the economic stimulus plan to receive support through this programme.

Despite having 1,039 businesses qualifying for the grants, monies from the $6.5 million fund were still left over after calculations were made. And it is important to emphasise here that based on the conditions attached to the source of this funding, businesses had to meet certain qualifying requirements.

So we made a provisional extension to the application process of the COVID-19 Small Business Stimulus Grant Programme, recognising that there were still some of our businesses that faced difficulty with meeting the deadline for whatever reason.

The additional funds prompted Government to decide to extend the deadline date to 16 September, 2020, to allow those businesses that did not apply for whatever reason to get the opportunity to do so. Those applications at this time will only be based on whatever funds are left, so persons who did not meet the original deadline for whatever reason would still be able get some assistance for their businesses. The Junior Minister for Trade will inform the public once this process is completed.

It was our intent for everyone who can qualify to get an opportunity to make an application. We are a fair Government, with a heart for stimulating jobs for the people and assisting entrepreneurs.

We want businesses to thrive. We want people in jobs. That is why we are here working for our businesses.

The reality is, the length and depth of the impact of COVID-19 on small vulnerable states like the BVI is still unknown because COVID-19 remains fluid and no one has been able to set an end-date for the virus either through discovery of a cure or a vaccine.

Mr. Speaker, you would recall that this Government presented our $62.9M Phase Two COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, which contained several programmes to help support families and small businesses during these trying times. The plan, together with the details of the bureaucratic hurdles that your Government were navigating through to get it in place for implementation, were made known long in advance with periodic updated. But, of course, there are those in our society who prefer to sow seeds of chaos during this period of distress by trying to muddy the waters for your Government and to incite fear and worry in the minds of the people when there is no need for this. But your Government did not allow this to distract us from continuing our work for the people.

This Government recognises that COVID-19 has caused – and continues to cause – significant economic impact on workers and on businesses. That is why we put forward those initiatives to assist our people in coping this pandemic.

I would like to talk a little about how the funds for this programme are being distributed.

Let me say here that for the purposes of this programme, “loss in business revenue” was used to evaluate the impact to the businesses, which resulted in a more targeted and equitable distribution of funds to the recipients.

Since the needs of the businesses will most definitely outstrip the value of the programme ($6.5 million), MSMEs will only be able to receive a certain percentage of losses in the form of a grant.

The grants have been being processed and disbursed in accordance with Cabinet’s decision from the approved Small Business Sector Grant Programme via the COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Package.

Payments in support of the businesses’ overheads, purchases, or debt repayments will be made directly to the beneficiaries, where they would be required to sign a declaration that will ensure adherence to the terms and conditions as required for the use of the funds by providing evidence of same. I urge our businesses to ensure that these funds are used to create a lasting impact and lasting benefit on their operations. This is important for accountability.

Let me say here that at the end of the application deadline on 21, August 2020, some 1,423 businesses applied and were reviewed in accordance with the set guidelines for distribution of the Grant. Of the 1,423 businesses that were reviewed, 1,039 businesses were successful and are in the process of being awarded grants in a timely manner, ranging from $1,592 to $7,955.

Given the current curfew and restricted movement and gathering of persons, regrettably, a formal face-to-face ceremony for an official handover of cheques is not possible at this time.

SMALL BUSINESSES GRANT STIMULUS PROGRAMME

Mr. Speaker, I announced the Small Businesses Grant Programme and the breakdown of the 1,039 businesses that qualified to receive the grant in various amounts. This maximum range mentioned previously is to ensure that as many businesses as possible will be able to benefit, as a means to stimulate economic activity.

I will now give a breakdown to this Honourable House of the distribution of funds by District.

For security purposes we will not release the names of the businesses, but I will share information based on Districts as follows:

DISTRICT NUMBER OF BUSINESSES GRANT AMOUNT $
DISTRICT 1 68         399,290
DISTRICT 2 102       598,140
DISTRICT 3 91 548,825
DISTRICT 4 280 1,665,565
DISTRICT 5 68         404,063
DISTRICT 6 113 644,273
DISTRICT 7 59         354,748
DISTRICT 8 90 518,600
DISTRICT 9 169 1,005,384
Total 1039 6,138,889

We are pleased to strengthen and stimulate this economy, with no District left behind.

At this time, I must continue to say that as a Government, we are pleased that we have been able to ensure that several small businesses continue to benefit from Government’s funding in the areas of:

  1. Security Services for the quarantine requirements;
  2. Taxi Operators on Tortola who are part of the Park and Ride since the traffic turn around;
  3. Taxi Operators on Virgin Gorda;
  4. Boat Operators who were able to transport the health professionals to and from Anegada and Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke;
  5. We have been utilising our small businesses for Phase One of the Controlled Border Re-entry programme, with hoteliers providing a space for persons to be quarantined before assimilating back into the population.
  6. We looked to our small business community to provide the platforms to assist with the enhancement of Border Security. We also turned to our small businesses to assist us with securing our borders. For example, we saw the need to take further measures as a Government to further protect our borders with three platform station barges; and this is NOT at a cost of $17,000 per station, as has been wrongfully and irresponsibly reported by others, but alternatively at a cost of $4,666.67 per station.

As a Government, we took the decision to boost the local capabilities of our Joint Task Force comprising Her Majesty’s Customs; the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force; and the BVI Immigration Department. Assistance from the British Naval Forces will always be welcomed but and the timing of such will be determined by the circumstances at hand. Together our Joint Task Force shall continue to disrupt the illegal actions to the South and North of Jost Van Dyke as they are already doing based on reported detections.

  1. BVI Electricity Corporation would also have supported qualifying businesses with their electricity bills.
  2. As a reminder, each District Representative was given $300,000 to assist those who need financial assistance. Those persons who are Members of the Elected Government have created small projects to stimulate jobs in the Districts and assist entrepreneurs. We ensured that we were fair across the board, whether Members are in the Government or the Opposition, because in the fight against COVID-19 there are no sides. COVID-19 does not discriminate and neither should we.

We recognised that people did not want Government just to give them a handout. They wanted to be engaged and to work and provide value for it and to continue building their entrepreneurial spirit as is in the DNA of the people of the Virgin Islands.

So in many ways we are making sure that small businesses and entrepreneurs, who have applied under various arms of our stimulus programme are beneficiaries of what little we have to offer and to work with.

Mr. Speaker, this Government recognises that the grants being awarded to 1,039 small businesses from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke will only assist to a certain limit.

This Government is glad to report to this Honourable House that negotiations are underway to partner with one of our locally registered financial institutions to offer small businesses, new businesses, and new entrepreneurs loans with more than reasonable terms and conditions and affordable interest rates to further assist our small businesses during this challenging COVID-19 era.

The details of this initiative will be forthcoming shortly. As a Government we will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to further strengthen our small businesses because they are the back bone of our economy. Your Government will continue to seek out ways to support and nurture the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit that resides within our people, as they continue to strive for economic and social advancement and security.

I congratulate all the businesses – over 1,000 businesses, that will benefit from the grant made possible by their Government.

Additionally, the Committee will be monitoring and evaluating the programme to ensure its success by collecting information through participant surveys, focus group discussions and interviews carried out periodically during and after the implementation period.

Your Government believes in the strength of our local businesses and the people of the Virgin Islands. We are the ones who must control our own destiny.

Once again, I say congratulations to all the businesses and individuals who have qualified for the many different business stimulus packages made possible by your Government.

Remember, we are in this together.

I thank you.

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