More evidence has surfaced in recent weeks suggesting that government’s taxpayer-funded economic stimulus package was grossly unfair to thousands of residents who lost their jobs during the pandemic.
The unemployment prong of the stimulus — which was administered by the Social Security Board and spent less than $6 million of the $10 million initially allocated to it — paid out an average of about $1,100 to more than 5,000 residents, and about 3,000 others were turned away.
Given that many of these people were out of work for months, these grants seem paltry indeed, especially given that the SSB provided some $57 million for the overall stimulus package.
Now a leaked list circulating via social media has highlighted a grave injustice. The list suggests that many residents who were employed full time throughout the pandemic — including senior public officers at high pay grades — received grants up to $22,500 through another prong of the stimulus for farmers and fishers. This prong — which benefited hundreds — spent more than the unemployment programme, at around $6.1 million.
Don’t get us wrong: For full-time farmers and fishers suffering during the pandemic, grants are a reasonable means to help boost the economy while bolstering food security. But paying large sums to hobbyists who were employed full-time while the unemployed suffered is simply unfair.
Another stimulus prong that indirectly could have helped the unemployed — business grants — also got shortchanged by comparison: Businesses typically received smaller grants than many farmers and fishers, averaging around $6,000.
Premier Andrew Fahie has tried to downplay the leaked list by questioning its accuracy and claiming that it is incomplete. But he himself provided it to the opposition in response to questions asked during a House of Assembly meeting.
Many questions arise. Who allocated the funds to farmers and fishers? What process did applicants have to undergo? Why did the cost of that particular stimulus prong start at $2 million and then balloon to more than $6 million? Where did the extra money come from?
Why was the programme administered by the Premier’s Office instead of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture? Why did some highly paid public officers receive large grants while unemployed people struggled to get even a $1,000 payout under another stimulus prong?
Unfortunately, these questions are merely the latest in a long list associated with the $62.9 million stimulus package. In spite of sporadic updates, government has failed to account for the spending in a comprehensive and transparent manner.
A full accounting should come soon, as should a plan to properly assist people who actually lost their jobs during the pandemic. Many are still out of work, and they have been left behind in a dramatic and shameful fashion.