I’m sure any Bajan who sees our hardworking leader relaxing on Ilaro Court’s balcony this weekend with feet up, Mount Gay on the rocks in hand, would say it was well deserved.
It’s been one hell of a week for our Matriarch as she coupled an interview on CNN with renowned host Christiane Amanpour with an extended address to our Nation all less than a month after recovering from surgery in late March.
People from across the diaspora have voiced their appreciation for how the Chairman of CARICOM represented our region with pride & poise in her chat with Amanpour.
She voiced her concerns about the cold hard truth that Caribbean islands are being placed in a precarious predicament relating to the borrowing terms being granted by the world’s most powerful lenders, the IMF and The World Bank. The courage and gumption it takes to bring to light these issues on the world stage cannot go unnoticed.
Here is a link to the 11 minute interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtPpDH-QIvs&t=539s
“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”
Madame Mottley talked at great length on Wednesday night about matters Bajans were dying to hear about; when will things get back to normal? She indicated what she wanted to see in terms of new social norms and that the country would begin to re-open in phases in order of importance. Sadly, guys finally getting a fresh fade and ladies getting that new remy laid did not make the list.
She then got to the section many were keen to hear the most, how is it possible we recover from this?
She began by laying down the sobering facts; the government will lose almost half a billion dollars in tax revenue over the next year while spending an extra quarter billion on virus-related costs.
We were reminded that if not for the economic changes made since the last election (higher bus fare and land tax to name a few) the government would have literally no cash to buy ventilators, virus tests or PPE.
The administration’s economic stimulus plan is split into 5 parts which we’ll quickly summarize.
“Hardships make us strong. Problems give birth to wisdom. Those who have suffered the most will become the happiest”
Related to Individuals
The government office under the most pressure during this time would naturally be the NIS. It is the first line of defense for those who have lost their job. Those laid off will receive unemployment benefits for up to 6 months and those on short hours will receive 60% salary. The NIS has paid out over $11 million in benefits since the pandemic began.
Self-employed people may well have been hit extra hard as there is typically no assistance extended. Luckily, the government has decided to grant a one time $1,500 per month grant for April and May only. For entrepreneurs this will at least begin to fill the emptiness in their pockets for the next 4 weeks.
In the tragic event that everyone in a household is left jobless by the crisis, the welfare department will make an additional $600 available to those families in extreme hardship.
The administration also promises to start to pay out $131 million of personal tax refunds over the next few weeks. This much needed cash could not come faster. For the small and micro business owners, $500 per employee per month will be contributed by the government to help stay afloat. Criteria to qualify is that you are registered with the Small Business Association, the Barbados Revenue Authority and the NIS by May 18th.
After negotiations with commercial banks, there will be a 6 month payment postponement on existing loans and mortgages where needed. Credit card interest relief up to 50% for some and 3 month payment waivers for others.
“If you expect life to be easy, challenges will seem difficult. If you accept that challenges may occur, life will be easier.”
Related to Small Business & Corporations
The PM assured us that the island’s foreign reserves would be sufficient to steer us through the crisis unscathed. The government allocated $1.7 billion dollars to the refurbishment of buildings, road construction, market refurbishment and environmentally friendly initiatives. The significant construction plans should lead to a healthy amount of new employment for construction workers, engineers and architects. $360 million is being invested into climate change efforts with the help of private investors. This should help all of those interested in or studying in the fields of engineering, renewable energy and community development to be able to aid the government and private sector efforts in reaching the 2030 goal of being fossil fuel free.
750 acres of land for short crop cultivation have been made available. This will certainly boost employment for farmers in addition to decreasing our reliance on imports during a time where all countries may be short on food reserves.
An interesting addition in this bill is a dedicated Praedial Larceny crime unit in the Royal Barbados Police Force to assist both large farms and small home gardens in the prevention of their valuable crop being stolen by bandits.
The Bajan private sector employs six times more people than the government. In recognition of this, the government has vowed to do everything it can to keep these businesses from going under and laying off more people. Numerous incentives are being given to businesses keeping the majority of their staff.
Mottley’s team will dip into the $50 million natural disaster fund previously set up as there is no point having funds idle while they are imminently needed.
The Central Bank has urged commercial banks to be more transparent with their fees charged and share updates regularly via social media or text.
Our leader then went on to warn businesses that price gouging will simply not be tolerated. This certainly is not the time to be maximizing profits to the detriment of the majority who are struggling.
It was mentioned that her team would make an effort to revolutionize the way we do business through a greater degree of government services being conducted online, the increase in digital currency in circulation and a new automatic clearing house for faster bank transfers between parties.
In concluding, one final suggestion to the public was made in relation to rallying together around those who are struggling the most. It was suggested that a small paycheck deduction be taken from Bajans who make in excess of $3,000 a month to aid the extraordinary effort to assist those in greatest need. The plan would be to repay funds deducted within the next four years. It was brought up as merely an idea, but could be something we see become reality in the near future.
“There are no great people in this world, only great challenges which ordinary people rise to meet.”
The steps outlined by the Prime Minister fall in line with many countries around the world as leaders try to navigate through murky and untraveled waters. The Barbados government has done a fantastic job flattening the curve and providing economic support as well as adjusting us to the ‘new normal’.
The world is suffering. As we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, let us all take a moment to be grateful for what we still have, our family, our friends and most importantly, our lives.
Tough times never last Barbados, but tough Bajans do.