Another batch of budding Vincentian entrepreneurs was, on Tuesday, awarded grant financing as capital for their businesses. The 80 successful applicants were aged 18 – 62 years old(PRYME plus) and encompassed several fields of commercial activity.
Music Production, fashion & beauty, agriculture and information technology industries are a few of the economic sectors that Finance Minister (and Tuesday’s feature speaker)Camilo Gonsalves listed as being positively impacted throughthis latest cohort of grant recipients.
Together they presented a “wonderful snapshot of the Vincentian people and their desire to work hard, even in this difficult time of COVID,” Minister Gonsalves said.
The disbursed PRYME and PRYME plus grants are being used to procure assets “from high end computers, high quality digital equipment to cutlass and wheelbarrow – necessary tools for your job to help you succeed, to help you feed your family, to help your business grow,” he also said.
According to Minister Gonsalves, this micro-enterprise intervention has not come a moment too soon given what he described as the economic calamity that is facing St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the wider Eastern Caribbean sub-region.
The younger Gonsalves was confident that the COVID-19 economic impact was just beginning. To date, he said, some 261 Vincentian businesses who actively contributed to the National Insurance were closed due to COVID and 2500 Vincentians have lost their jobs since March this year. It is within this context that over 1600 vendors and over 100 hand cart operator are supported by the government; over 600 Vincentians were added to poor relief thereby increasing the social assistance payments and over 2500 love boxes (an Agriculture Ministry led initiative where local produce are bought from farmers and supposedly shared out amongst the most vulnerable by churches and non-governmental organizations) were distributed.
All told, Minister Gonsalves summed up, 15000 plus Vincentians have accessed COVID -19 related support directly from the government here. And this figure, he said, does not include vendors, fisher folk, farmers and\or transportation service providers for whom subventions were also made available.
Regionally, the Minister reported, OECS economies would shrink between 10 & 20 percent this year, evidence of the unprecedented “tough times” that are facing Caribbean people as a direct result of the pandemic.
“Economically COVID is like a hurricane hitting each and every one of our islands at the same time,” Minister Gonsalves told his audience.
This, he outlined, is characterized in part by the unemployment projections for the region which shows a drastic rise in some countries to over 50 per cent. With some 20, 000 Antiguans already unemployed -“people working in the tourism sector and others” and some 16, 000 unemployment benefits applicantslining up in St. Lucia; Gonsalves was quick to note “it’s not looking like that for us in St. Vincent but COVID is not over.”
National revenues fell by 18 – 20 percent last month, Camilo Gonsalves reported.
“When we lose 20 percent of our money that’s a big problem but compared to other countries in the OECS we’re doing better than most because their revenues have dropped by 50 percent,” the Finance Minister clarified.
He underscored the situation facing this country by pointing to the fact that SVG needs more money to cover the local COVID-19 medical response and economic stimulus “but yo making 20 percent less than yo made last year.”
Add to that one of the worst droughts in recent memory, he quipped, as he painted the stark imagery of economic turmoil that lay ahead.
His government’s solution, Minister Gonsalves said, was betting on small businesses; that they will help to keep the Vincentian economy going. This is evidenced by the 1509 Vincentians who have applied for PRYME or PRYME plus grants as of June 12, 2020. Of those, 160 applicants have already been granted with 100 or so applications set to be reviewed on Wednesday 17 and an estimated 100 applications is being submitted weekly.
This second set of 80 grantees received over 600, 000 Eastern Caribbean dollars and are said to be from areas across SVG as diverse as Union Island and Fancy.
The Unity Labour Party government is expected to again increase the almost $5M EC grant project in an effort to offer more grants.