(CMR) The Cayman Islands Farmers Assistance and Relief Measures (CI FARM) could resume soon following an assessment being carried out by the Ministry of Planning Agriculture Housing and Infrastructure (PAHI). Minister Jay Ebanks updated Members of Parliament of the development during a Finance Committee session on Monday morning.
The Minister made this revelation after members of the Opposition questioned whether the $500,000 which was being sought for the grant to farmers program during the sitting of the Financial Committee on Monday was adequate and if the program would be resumed. Opposition leader Roy McLaughlin said $500,000 did not go very far and asked whether there was a need to double the amount.
It was then revealed that the amount being sought was for expenditure already incurred for the program, which was originally intended to stop in February but was extended to May. Minister Ebanks said approximately 1500 farmers received a grant of about $400 and receive a top-up of $400 each month.
“The program was seized so we can actually get some checks and balances into it and make sure that the money was actually being spent in the right way. But that's to clarify that it was not actually stopped and that actually we will be looking forward to actually bring it back forward again once we have everything sorted out.”
McLaughlin then questioned whether or not discrepancies have occurred for the step to be taken to put the program on hold. Under the program, both commercial farmers and small farmers benefitted.
“All we want to do is make sure that the criteria is better set going forward. That's all,”
the minister replied.
The acting chief officer for the Ministry of PAHI, Leyda Nicholson-Makasare, said it was not that the money was not spent properly, but that the ministry wanted to reassess “for us to look at the program and see how best we can assist farmers in addition to the subsidies that they are receiving.”
“There is not necessarily an issue with the program. It is to ensure that we have checks and balances in place,” she added.
The program was initially launched under the Progressives government back in December 2020 and later extended to June 2021. However, after numerous complaints about potential abuses by some users, it was halted by the PACT minister in May 2021. Over 500 farmers had taken advantage of the program designed to offer economic relief to the local farming community that was negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
It fell under the remit of Progressive's Minister O'Connor-Connolly who is now part of the PACT government.