SKN: PRIME MINISTER MEETS WITH THE CHAMBER TO DISCUSS ECONOMIC RECOVERY FROM THE IMPACT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

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On Thursday, April 8, 2021, the Honorable Prime Minister invited the President and Board of Directors of the CIC along with representatives of the CIC’s Category “A“membership to dialogue and discussion at the Royal St. Kitts Hotel Conference Room hosted by Mrs. Hilary Hazel, Financial Secretary in the Ministry of Finance. Also present at the meeting were members of the Federal Cabinet and other Senior Government Officials.The main agenda was to discuss the Nation’s plan and approach to recovery from the impact of the Covid-Pandemic. Addressing the gathering were Dr. The Honourable Timothy Harris, Prime Minister, Mrs. Giselle Matthews – President of the SKNCIC, Mrs. Hilary Hazel – Financial Secretary; Dr. Hazel Laws – Chief Medical Officer and Dr. Cameron Wilkinson, Medical Chief of Staff.All the speakers heavily emphasized the importance of ensuring workers’ health and safety and the public at large in the plan for reopening the full complement of Tourism sectors in October 2021. In that regard, the health officials stressed the inoculation of at least 70 percent of the population of persons 18 years and over to reach the threshold of herd immunity was paramount. The concern was raised about the uptake of the vaccine, which, at the current pace, would be achieved sometime in September this year. At that time, it will become possible to further open the economy for tourism and cruise, and other business-related sectors that have been restricted over the past year.The question posed, was if herd immunity is not fully achieved by September what happens to those not vaccinated? Dr. Cameron Wilkinson intimated that those not vaccinated at that point will be vulnerable and risk becoming infected once the economy and Cruise sector fully reopens. In her presentation, the President of the SKNCIC expressed her deep concern about the continued devastating impact of the Pandemic on employment and the lives of the people of the Federation and the need for government financial assistance to both small and medium businesses (SME’s) and individual families who continue to struggle. She expressed the CIC’s concern in relation to the expiration on the Loan Moratoriums which will come to end in September 2021, despite an extension by the ECCB. Businesses will be expected to resume payments despite the prolonged closure of the tourist sector and a lack of revenue generation over the past year to meet their financial obligations. In the open dialogue session, CIC Board of Director and CEO of National Bank Donald Thompson reiterated this point providing further clarity and concern on the matter and advised on the importance that individual business owners engage their banks in possible loan restructuring before the deadline date in September rolls around. The President stressed the need for government to deliver access funding with a soft loan program through the Development Bank to registered and tax-paying SMEs as a matter of priority. She proposed a low-interest rate of 2-3% and a repayment plan which would not kick in for 12-18 months allowing for these businesses to use the initial cash inflow to pay basic operational costs and expenses in getting their businesses back on their feet in the initial stages. She offered the CIC’s support to the Financial Secretary in assisting with a business survey to identify the real needs of these SME’s.She further stated that the Chamber was encouraged by the Government’s Stimulus Package of $120 million disbursed, however, she expressed concern over ensuring the protection of our Federations Social Security Fund of which 22 million was used to support the shortfall payments to individuals who were laid off or made redundant. The President stated, “a key concern of the CIC is that we do not continue to drain the social security funds for stimulus use and put the country’s long-term security funds and that of pensioners in jeopardy. The Social Security funds’ continued use in this manner is not sustainable in the long term. ”The Chamber is proposing the government revisit and revise increased stimulus assistance over the next 6 months for the approximately 2000 individuals still unemployed in the Tourism industry and use an alternative source of funds through the countries lucrative CBI program which reportedly generated revenue of $443 million in 2019. The President also raised the conversation and touched on our ability as a country to engage in projects that can empower our people outside of Tourism related industries. She specifically made reference to the Solar Plant Project launched in November 2020 between LaClanche, SKELEC and the Government of St.Kitts/Nevis. The CIC in a letter dated January 8th 2021 to the Honorable Prime Minister requested engagement with Government to learn more about this project. The sentiment is that the people of St. Kitts/Nevis should be very much a part of this investment and the beneficial owners allowing for the technical assistance to come from LaClanche. She made the particular comparison to the local investment on the second cruise ship pier at Port Zante. The Health authorities and the NEOC were commended for their diligence and hard work over the past year to ensure that they effectively managed the Pandemic, which has resulted in very low cases of the virus. To date, the Federation had not had any deaths. During the dialogue, representatives of the hotel and tourism sectors expressed their concern about the continued negative impact on the sector as the Health Officials continued to be cautious with opening to more international travel and cruise tourism.The overwhelming view was expressed that inoculation by the persons employed in Tourism is a key ingredient if that sector is expected to fully reopen and if necessary, it may become mandatory that you show proof of vaccination to work in that industry. The Prime Minister passionately emphasized the importance of vaccination to the population if the Federation is serious about doing business in Tourism and getting back to normalcy. He encouraged and implored the business community to do what is necessary to get their management teams and all employees vaccinated.The CIC President in her closing remarks assured the Prime Minister and the Health officials of the Chamber’s commitment to working with all parties once the data is reported on a National Public Awareness Campaign.The four-hour dialogue was quite informative and successful. The Prime Minister and the Financial Secretary informed the meeting that the information presented was being recorded and will be presented in a report that will guide the Government as it puts together the action plan to facilitate the economic recovery of the economy.

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