The Progressive/Alliance parliamentary opposition has called on the PACT coalition government to explain its rationale for discontinuing the (Farmers Assistance and Relief Measures) FARM stipend scheme.
In a statement on Thursday titled ‘Agriculture Minister ‘flip-flops’ on hundreds of Caymanian farmers’ Hon. Leader of the Opposition, Roy McTaggart challenged the government on the abrupt policy change.
“I was pleased to learn in a statement put out on May 19th by the Minister for Planning, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure, the Hon Jay Ebanks, that the PACT Government would be continuing the Farmers Assistance and Relief Measures (FARM) program that was started in December last year under the Progressives-led coalition by then Agriculture Minister, the Hon Julianna O’Connor-Connolly,” Mr McTaggart wrote.
Noting that Min. Ebanks is himself a farmer, Opposition Leader McTaggart went on to question why the government changed its stance just a week later after endorsing the scheme from which he said over 1200 farmers have so far benefitted.
“Then a week later many farmers, perhaps even Minister Juliana O'Connor-Connolly, were surprised and disappointed at the Minister’s about-face when he announced in a further press release that the FARM programme would not be continuing, and no new credits given, after next month for those who registered with the Department of Agriculture since the programme started.”
In other words, he said, “those encouraged to take up farming because of the programme will no longer be supported.”
“That is indeed disappointing especially as no reason was given for the sudden change."
According to the Opposition Leader, who is also the new leader of the Progressives party, “It is not clear what has made the Minister change his mind from supporting the programme to effectively stopping it over the course of a week. However, I do note that this is the second program the PACT government has recently cancelled that was assisting Caymanians.”
said, in the past week the government had also cancelled the George Town shuttle bus service which he felt would have grown further had the program been allowed to continue as originally intended.
In a recent radio interview, the government said the shuttle bus service was stopped because the funding put in place by the previous Progressives-led administration had expired as it was only budgeted for a specific period as a pilot project.
“The Opposition will carefully watch to see what other programs benefiting our people that the PACT will shut down. I do hope the Caymanian people are also paying attention,” Mr McTaggart stated.