Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is denying that only supporters of his government are receiving grants under the Promoting Youth Micro Enterprises (PRYME) initiative.
Under PRYME, persons can receive up to EC$40,000 of public funds for their start-ups or existing business.
“One of the interesting things, in a particular village with which I am familiar, a person got 12 or $15,000 grant and he is one of the big NDP supporters in the community,” Gonsalves said on WE FM on Sunday.
“And some supporters of mine called me. So I said, ‘What are you calling me about?’
“‘Well this person–’
“I said, ‘This is the problem, you don’t expect that individuals would assess something?’
“Public servants and people in the private sector. Those are the people who constitute the committee. And I have made the point plain already,” the prime minister said.
He said he had told Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves to approve all the grants recommended by the review committee.
The finance minister had announced that his government will no longer make public the names of grantees as some of the recipients have been victims of “vitriolic” attack.
“But those who are turned down, go through those also and ask why is it that John Browne was given a loan [grant] and Mary Scott was not given one and their situation appear similar. It doesn’t matter what politics because how can you know?” the prime minister said.
Gonsalves said over 2,000 persons have applied for PRYME, which was launched this year, and nearly 300 have already received grants.
“You want to tell me … is just ULP people get? And if you consolidate 53% of the population, you wouldn’t expect ULP people to get?
“So if John Browne supports the ULP and you hear that they get, you say is only ULP people? What about the others who are ULP and who get? We must stop this foolishness and allow the process to work,” he said.
The prime minister said that most of the money given in the grants will be spent on equipment or supplies for the recipient’s business.
“If you’re hoping to get a whole heap ah money in your hand so that you can spend it otherwise, well, you’d be mistaken,” he said.
“The programme has certain objectives. It for you helping your existing business or to start a new business and they must be viable. And it is the committee which determines that.
“Nobody in the government — the political arm of the government — approves any of these loans. What you can do is that if anybody is turned down — it doesn’t matter which political persuasion the person is turned down — you can ask the committee to have a second look. You can’t approve it you know.”
The prime minister said his government “had dress rehearsals on this before” in the form of the EC$2.5 million Caribbean Regional Communications Infrastructure Programme (CARCIP), which gave grants to IT businesses.
“One of the persons who got a big grant under the CARCIP programme is a very strong supporter of the opposition,” Gonsalves said. “There has to be reviews of this programme and it has to be done objectively.