Listen here to audio version of Hon Paul Lewis' statement on the Enterprise Development Scheme:
Full text of speech below:
Good day to you my fellow citizens.
Recently, the Government of Montserrat announced that existing, and new businesses on Montserrat are now able to submit their applications for funding under their long-awaited Enterprise Development Scheme (EDS).
The EDS is a programme, that according to the Government, will make a total of EC$1.1 million available to the private sector to support business innovation, grow employment, and strengthen existing and emerging businesses on Montserrat.
Let me state here, that I am all for programmes to be implemented that will drive economic activity on the island. If you recall, over the past year, it was the Opposition that has been calling for well-thought-out and practical measures to be put in place to get our economy moving once again.
My concern continues to be for the many sectors of the economy where our small business operators took some heavy losses due to this COVID crisis, and to this day, they are struggling to find their way.
The Government of Montserrat have a responsibility for the economic development of Montserrat. They also have a duty in this COVID crisis, that for any recovery to take root and have significant impact, then they must ensure that every effort is brought to bear to assist not just some of the people, but as wide a cross section of the business community as possible.
Fellow citizens, I must tell you that whilst the Enterprise Development Scheme looks and sounds fancy on paper, in practical terms it will NOT bring the economic kickstart for Montserrat that this Government is promising. They are misleading you whenever they bring such conversations to you about the EDS Scheme. I can tell you without a shadow of doubt, that the EDS is not a scheme set up to help as wide a cross section of our business community as is possible.
The Premier on this very radio station, when talking about the EDS, stated rather casually that some of you will simply not qualify! In fact, what the Premier did not tell you is that the MAJORITY of the existing businesses will NOT qualify, and that the criteria set by HIS government was designed to prevent most of these businesses from qualifying.
The centre-piece of the EDS is a grant award of up to EC$20,000.00 and 3.5% interest loans of up to EC$40,000.00. The notes of the Scheme also state that businesses have the option to apply for both types of funding. That is good.
However, how can the Government of Montserrat on one hand be telling businesses in the private sector that the scheme is to help them, but yet at the same time place such heavy restrictions on what a business can or cannot use the funds for? Are you telling me Mr Premier, that if a business requires to purchase stock for resale, that they cannot do so based on one of your key restrictions around the EDS funding award?
On one hand, this government is giving bread, but at the same time it is telling businesses how they must eat this bread! The restrictions placed on any potential business receiving funding, even under a loan arrangement from the EDS are impractical and poorly constructed.
If Government is concerned that funds won’t be used for business-related activities, then they can simply stipulate in the funding agreement that the Government of Montserrat reserves the right to request an audit of funds for any business that has been awarded. Businesses should be allowed to use the funds for any business-related activity.
The other area that shows the EDS not to be a Scheme to help as many businesses as possible, is the further stipulation where the criteria for selection by the EDS committee will automatically exclude many of our small and struggling businesses.
The EDS criteria includes:
I wish to ask the Premier and his Cabinet if they are serious about jumpstarting the private sector on Montserrat? For if they truly are serious about this, then why on earth would they stipulate that one of the criteria for funding is that businesses must fall within the KEY PRIORITY AREAS of ICT, Renewable Energy, Light Manufacturing and Environmental Protection!
In practical terms, how many of you operating now, have businesses within those areas to qualify? Not many I know for sure!
This EDS programme cuts out our restaurant operators, our kitchenettes, our service industry businesses, our bar operators, our taxi and tour operators, our cleaning services businesses, our mechanics and body works businesses – plus many other areas of the private sector that will be left out due to the restrictive nature of the EDS criteria!
I can assure you fellow citizens that if I was your Leader, my Cabinet would never have presented a funding scheme to you, in a time like this, when ALL businesses are suffering, that left so many businesses out in the cold. We would have seen it as priority, that a scheme such as this has far-reaching impact to help ALL businesses most in need of these funds.
I am therefore calling on the Premier to take the EDS criteria back to Cabinet and make the necessary changes so that our hurting members of the private sector who stand not to benefit from the scheme as it is currently set up, can have some hope that they too are being thought of and are seen as worthy of receiving assistance from this EDS programme.
If this Government is serious about helping the private sector to get back on its feet, then they must do the right thing and fix the EDS Scheme’s restrictive criteria immediately! ALL business should be able to benefit.
I thank you!