Bishop John Cline, the Senior Pastor at the New Life Baptist Church stated that the public funds provided to churches that were not in need of COVID-19 relief, should give them back.
In an interview with BVI Platinum News, Bishop Cline explained that most of the churches in the BVI are independent churches without international support systems.
This significantly affected the church’s ability to pay staff and to meet other financial commitments, like utility bills, loans and mortgages, Bishop Cline expressed.
“The pandemic was a tremendous financial setback for churches because, unlike other businesses that could have opened, the church opens once a week and most of the church’s income come from parishioners giving,” Bishop Cline noted.
According to the Commission of Inquiry
) report, over $2.3M was distributed under the Religious Institution programme, with $1,370,000 going to churches, and an additional $55,000 to “Religious Groups”. The funds that were distributed by the Government were allocated for the safe resumption of face-to-face worship sessions.
However, the CoI
report stressed that churches that did not apply received funding. The report notes that 75 % had not applied for assistance and of the 19 that applied, 16 had congregations of below 200.
Bishop Cline stated in the interview that COVID 19
relief was necessary for most churches if not all. He proposed that the churches which did not apply were likely to be unaware of the program.
He explained that the granting of funds to churches that did not apply was a possible attempt by the government to be fair and balanced to ensure there was perceived bias in how the funds were distributed.
Despite this, he was adamant that “If the Church did not apply because they did not need, then I think it is the responsibility of the church to say, ‘thank you but no thank you’ and they should give it back if they received and did not need.”
report stated that although the program was conceptualized in 2020, when the funds were distributed, most of the churches had their attendances back to full capacity and were functioning normally.
Further, the CoI
report noted that the program was administered with very limited accountability mechanisms in place, including former Premier Andrew Fahie
’s unilateral decisions on changing the policies and criteria for the distribution of funds. The CoI
report also stated that funds awarded to religious organizations around the Territory were inflated by 662% where the committee’s recommendation for disbursement stood at $185,772.67 and was increased to $1,415,000. However, $1,554,000 was disbursed.
The Premier's Office which administered the COVID
-19 relief funds is currently under criminal investigation as recommended by the CoI