Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says self-employed persons who have lost their incomes as a result of COVID-19 must also be given financial support in the economic package to be taken to Parliament next week.
“Many people in the informal sector will also need income assistance and must be considered likewise,” Friday said in a national address Wednesday night.
“One measure that can provide relief to all persons would be to reduce the cost of electricity by 25% for a specific period,” he said.
Friday said that while the main concern of St. Vincent and the Grenadines amidst the COVID-19 pandemic must be to protect life and health, the nation also has to look after the financial and material needs of its people and help them to manage for some time.
Friday said that with the travel industry now at a standstill, the tourism sector has suffered a severe blow and it may get worse.
“This means difficult times are ahead for those who earn their living directly or indirectly from tourism,” he said, mentioning hotel and guest house operators and workers, restaurant operators and workers, entertainers, taxi drivers, tour operators and tour guides, craft vendors, market vendors and water taxi operators
He said that governments in CARICOM and other parts of the world have put in place various economic stimulus packages to help people employed in the tourism sector and other severely impacted groups.
“All of us are called upon to do our part to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and protect against disease. We will all make the necessary sacrifice. Those who are directly affected financially by loss of jobs or businesses need assurance from government that they will receive financial assistance.”
He noted that banks and other financial institutions in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union have offered relief through deferred loan payments and waiver of fees for six months.
“Those who wish to use these provisions should be enabled to do so,” the opposition leader said, adding that financial institutions and the government should make the necessary information available to them.
“Do not merely announce the measures. Put systems in place to help people who need them to have access to them,” he said.
Friday said he was also heartened to hear from the government that the National Insurance Services would play a role by providing some unemployment benefits.
“Every bit helps,” he said.
The opposition leader said that in general, any economic stimulus package outlined by the government must meet the needs of the crisis.
“This requires a comprehensive and detailed assessment of our present circumstances, including our shortcomings to meet the growing demands of this pandemic.”
He said that when the package is taken to Parliament next Tuesday, opposition lawmakers will address the specific measures the government proposes and make additional recommendations as needed.
He said he has recommended to the government that the stimulus package designed specifically for COVID-19 relief be placed under oversight of a select committee of Parliament.
“This will inspire confidence that the funds would reach those most affected by the crisis and it will signal to external donors that suitable measures are in place to ensure accountability. I hope this recommendation is adopted,” Friday said.