STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
DURING THE ELEVENTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
Thursday 12th August 2021
COVID-19 Monitoring and Evaluation
Thank you Mister Speaker, for allowing me this opportunity to make this statement to this Honourable House.
I wish to provide an update to this Honourable House on the measures being implemented by your Government for the Monitoring and Evaluation of the various COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Grants.
This was part of your Government’s response to the social and economic fallout from the pandemic, which not only touched on the loss of revenue of businesses, but also on loss of income to employees and the potential threats to food access in the Virgin Islands.
Cabinet approved the Monitoring and Evaluation Policy of the Economic Stimulus Programmes that are being carried out by the Premier's Office.
But, before I go further, may I state for the record that the Monitoring and Evaluation Policy for the Economic Stimulus Programmes was not something that fell out of the sky or any kind of knee-jerk response to any recent developments.
In all the Cabinet Decisions in which the various stimulus programmes were approved, and in all the Cabinet Papers, it was clearly stated that there would be a monitoring and evaluation phase that would follow the implementation phase.
Due to the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were some challenges and concerns with conducting certain types of field exercises.
But, we must also remember that when you are dealing with areas such as agriculture, the measureable indicator is crops planted, harvested and brought to market.
So, there is wisdom in allowing the injection to mature so that you have something to measure.
The other important point is that when the grants were issued, all recipients were given a letter advising them of their obligations to spend the money only as approved, to provide feedback and to participate in the monitoring and evaluation phase. I repeat, Mister Speaker, the other important point is that when the grants were issued, all recipients were given a letter advising them of their obligations to spend the money only as approved, to provide feedback and to participate in the monitoring and evaluation phase
Representatives of religious organisations and churches were required to sign a declaration stating that they would use the funds for the purpose intended.
All of this was done from the inception.
This is why, around 5th August, 2021, persons would have seen notices being published advising recipients of the COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Grants of their obligation to complete a mandatory COVID-19 Stimulus Feedback Form.
Letters are also being sent to all recipients to remind them of this obligation and to provide them with the necessary form – although the preference is for the forms to be filled out online at eservices.gov.vg/feedback/ .
This applies to all persons and businesses that received the COVID-19 Economic Stimulus for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises; Daycares, Pre-schools, Private Schools; churches; Religious Organisations; Farmers, and Fisherfolks.
They are asked to complete the COVID-19 Stimulus Feedback Form to assist the Government with completing its Economic Stimulus Grant Report to ascertain and confirm the impact of the support on the respective ventures.
Recipients are required to submit general information including names, trade licence, physical address, district and contact information, amount of grant received, number of employees where applicable, among other things.
Additionally, participants are required to list and provide documentation/receipts on how the funds were used; for example, to pay rent, electricity, water and sewerage, internet, salaries/severance to employees, payments to suppliers, National Health Insurance, Social Security, Inland Revenue, among other things.
The deadline to complete the forms is Friday, August 20, 2021, and persons who may need assistance with completing the form are asked to contact the Premier's Office at 468-2152 that is 468-2152.
Mister Speaker, you would recall that the Government of the Virgin Islands secured a special grant from the BVI Social Security Board (BVISSB) in the sum of $40 million to address specified initiatives including the following COVID-19 related economic stimulus measures. The stimulus packages that were assigned to the Premier's Office are as follows:
- COVID-19 Economic Stimulus - Micro Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Businesses Grant - $6.5 million,
- Economic Stimulus for Farmers and Fishermen - $2 million,
- COVID -19 - Economic Stimulus - Daycares, Pre-schools, Private Schools, Churches and Religious Organisation - $1 million, and
- COVID -19 - Transportation Stimulus Package - $1 million.
These allocations are supported by Cabinet Decisions - Memo Nos. 211/2020; 267/2020; 343/2020; 236/2020; 342/2020; 179/2020 and 175/2020.
The allocations were based on estimates and projections, however based on the volume of the requests under the different programmes, adjustments were made as appropriate.
It is important to note that when this stimulus was administered, the economy was projected to be on the verge of collapse, given the economic hardship being experienced by all entities due to the 24 hour lockdown and other measures as a result of COVID-19, and the protracted impact of the pandemic on economic activity.
Upon administering the programmes, it was realised that a broad based strategy, rather than a means assessment for each applicant, was implemented for the Economic Stimulus Programmes that were based on the merit and volume of the respective request.
Although the BVISSB and the Government of the Virgin Islands announced the grant in May, 2020, and Cabinet approved the various stimulus progammes in May/June 2020, disbursement of the grants did not begin until September 2020 due to bureaucratic issues and the availability of the funds. Some disbursements continued into 2021.
Considering that economic activity in the Virgin Islands was still severely constrained and that expenditure in targeted economic areas would require time to mature it was felt to be prudent, as I said, to allow some time for the funds to work before moving to the monitoring and evaluation stage of the stimulus programmes.
An additional consideration here was that having persons going from property to property to conduct interviews and site inspections at the time would have increased the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Vaccines were not available in the Virgin Islands until mid-February 2021 – and a large number of persons in the Territory still remain unvaccinated even to date.
Notwithstanding this, it is expedient to develop and implement a policy and action plan for monitoring and evaluation of the economic stimulus programmes to ensure accountability for the disbursed funds, and to measure the effectiveness of these interventions in shoring up and growing the Virgin Islands economy, and in having a positive social impact on the Territory during and after the current pandemic crisis.
To execute monitoring and evaluation of the various economic stimulus programmes, the following three-phase plan will be implemented.
Phase 1 – Reporting and Data Collection
The first phase of the monitoring and evaluation process would consist of the following steps:
- The Permanent Secretary, Premier’s Office will write 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. This has already begun.
- A feedback form (customised for each grant type) will be sent to each grant recipient. They will be asked to complete and return the form by 20 August, 2021. The form will also be made available in electronic format and via the internet. The forms are already accessible online at http://eservices.gov.vg/feedback/.
Respondents would be required to provide details, with supporting documents, receipts and photographs where applicable, of payments such as Statutory obligations, utilities, equipment, rent, mortgage, creditors, suppliers and staff.
They would also be 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 fisher folk would be required details of their operations such as acreage farmed and crops, or catch.
Various Government Departments will assist in following up with recipients to provide assistance to persons who may need help completing the forms and to ensure that the recipients return the forms to the Premier’s Office as follows:
- Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) - Premier’s Office, Department for Trade and Investment Promotions
- Farmers - Premier’s Office, Department for Agriculture and Fisheries
- Fisher Folk - Premier’s Office, Department for Agriculture and Fisheries
- Daycares, Pre-Schools and Private Schools - Premier’s Office, Ministry of Education
- Churches, Religious Organisations and Church Groups - Premier’s Office, Ministry of Health and Social Development
The collected data will be collated and analysed by the Premier’s Office to generate appropriate reports. This data will not only assist with providing accounting for the funds, but will assist in remedying existing deficiencies with databases, and in data-driven planning for the future.
Phase 2 – Verification and Site Visits
Grant recipients are urged to be honest and accurate in their submissions because the second phase of the monitoring and evaluation programme will include verification and site visits.
In the second phase of the monitoring and evaluation plan random site visits will be conducted by the Government Departments stipulated as follows to ascertain the veracity of information submitted in the Feedback Forms:
- MSME - Department for Trade and Investment Promotions
- Farmers - Department for Agriculture and Fisheries
- Fisher Folk - Department for Agriculture and Fisheries
- Daycares, Pre-Schools and Private Schools - Ministry of Education
- Churches, Religious Organisations and Church Groups - Ministry of Health and Social Development
The investigating agency will report to the Premier’s Office on the findings of site visits.
Phase 3 – Continuous Tracking
Under Phase 3 of the monitoring and evaluation process, the assigned Departments will conduct follow-up monitoring with the respective recipients and other participants in the various sectors to gather information on the growth and development of the individual businesses and organisations and the performance of the respective sectors as a whole.
Follow-ups would be conducted every three months and a report provided to the Premier’s Office.
The objective of this policy is to direct and ensure the collection of data from recipients of the various COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Programmes implemented by the Premier’s Office, for monitoring the use of grant funds and evaluating the effectiveness of the programmes in meeting their objectives.
This is necessary so that the Government of the Virgin Islands and the taxpayers of the Territory can be assured that the grants hit their target and that the Government is being prudent with the public's purse.
Mister Speaker, your Government was pleased to be able to assist our farmers, fisherfolk, daycares, pre-schools, private schools, churches, religious organisations and church groups, to cope with the difficulties caused by COVID-19.
These grants were an investment in the survival of our economy – to keep our economy going so that entrepreneurial activity can continue and provide jobs for our people in the midst of the worst pandemic in over 100 years.
These funds were an investment in developing and strengthening the relevant sectors, and in particular food production. We are already seeing an increase in the availability of local fish in the market, and we are already seeing more locally grown produce for sale at various locations.
We are also grateful to the BVI Social Security Board for coming to assistance of the Territory and our people at a time when help was needed, when Government revenues were adversely affected by the pandemic, and when requests to the UK Government, through the former Governor, for grants to support businesses and persons who were put out of work by COVID-19 were declined on the basis that the Virgin Islands must handle its own needs while UK taxpayers’ funds are used to support persons in the UK.
The then Governor said and I quote, “…[T]he Government of the British Virgin Islands made a request to the United Kingdom Government on Friday 27th March for funding to pay at least the minimum wage of persons who have become unemployed as a result of COVID-19….We need to recognise that we are starting from a strong position in the British Virgin Islands. We have healthy reserves and the Social Security Board Fund is very robust…. I am encouraged that like the other Overseas Territories, the BVI Government is developing its own plans to respond to those in need. Nonetheless, I would like to emphasise that the UK stands with the people of the British Virgin Islands and has already offered its support to this Territory.”
A detailed preliminary report on the distribution of the grants has been prepared and this will be presented to the House of Assembly in due course, so that all persons can see that the funds are accounted for.
The Government has ensure that all grants from the stimulus reached as many persons in the Virgin Islands through different entities.
Mister Speaker, the Government has made good on its promise, now we look forward to all recipients forwarding their information so that we can show the world that in the Virgin Islands we are more than capable of managing our own affairs, as we have always done together, even from the days of our ancestors and forefathers.
Mister Speaker, I thank you.