Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has expressed “disappointment” with the slow disbursement of monies under the Farmers Support Company programme, which has made EC$6 million available to be borrowed by farmers.
As of the middle of last week, 1,151 application, with total request of EC$10.69 million has been received, with one persons applying for EC$3 million, even as the cap is EC$20,000.
However, only EC$737,400 had been disbursed under the programme — which offers loans at 2 per cent interest – and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Raymond Ryan has promised promising that by May 14 all applicants will be assessed.
“I am pleased that the programme is being rolled out, but I am disappointed that there has not been a faster disbursement of monies,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance.
Over 300 loan applications have been approved, and Gonsalves said,
“That is, in my judgement, unsatisfactory”, adding that he has made his feeling known to the Permanent Secretary and the Chief Agricultural Officer.”
“The money is available,” he said, adding that he had instructed that EC$2.5 million of the EC$6 million be placed in the company’s bank account.
“The money, I don’t want it to lie down in the bank. I want the money in the hands of the farmers and the fertilizer in the hands of the farmers,” he further stated.
“I expected by the month of April for them to be coming back to me and say, ‘Prime Minister, I need some more of the $6 million.’ I didn’t expect that I had to be calling them and telling them, ‘Why the hell have you not been spending this money that I put in the account?’” Gonsalves said.
In addition to cash for the paying of wages and the purchase of agricultural inputs, farmers can also take the loan in the form of fertilizer.
“… the warehouse is still stacked with fertilizer,” Gonsalves said, adding that of a gift of 5,000 sacks of fertilizer from Morocco, some 3,000 were still undistributed.
“So I am using this press conference to put pressure on the Ministry of Agriculture, the officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, who are good and descent people, … to get the fertilizer in the hands of the farmers.
“… So, I want the farmers to appreciate that if they have their beef with officials in the Ministry of Agriculture moving too slowly on this matter and behaving as though they are an NGO who working at a pace which is different to ULP time, I am saying plain and simple, that is unacceptable,” said Gonsalves, who is head of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration.
“I am not knocking any individual, I am just saying that I expect the game to be upped,” he further said, adding, “I want us to get these approvals quicker and the disbursements move faster.”
Gonsalves, however, said he is not asking for “hurry-hurry activity, but measured, careful activity with some urgency, given the circumstances…
“I want the farming community to know that I am onto this issue and I am pressing the relevant public servants to have it rolled out…
“… I am not here putting blame on anybody but I am here reporting to the farmers so that the farmers would know that I am on their side, and I am pushing…” Gonsalves said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Raymond Ryan as Chief Agricultural Officer. He is in fact Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture.