Fellow Virgin Islanders, Business Owners, Media Houses, Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon and I pray all is well with you and your families in these tough times.
At the beginning of this year when we all looked hopefully out at the dawning of a new decade in the 21st Century, one would not have seen the dual health and economic crises we now face. Firstly, on behalf of myself and the Board of the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association (BVICCHA), I want to encourage everyone in the long journey ahead to be patient and hopeful and letting businesses know that we are here to support you. We stand behind our commitment to be your proactive voice of business, advocating to the relevant stakeholders on your behalf and communicating with you the pertinent information you need to navigate these rough waters. Your Business Is Our Business! We Got You!
I want to remind those from the self-employed to large businesses, to lead from a new paradigm as business leaders who understand that we are on the frontline of an economic crisis. We must understand that the decisions we make will affect not only our businesses but the society in which we live, because we are the backbone and building blocks of the economy and are still being called upon to efficiently and safely provide goods, services, employment and tax revenue because our community needs us now more than ever.
I know it is unbelievable for all of us that just two years ago we were going into recovery mode from a tumultuous hurricane season, and now before we could catch our breaths, we are in the midst of a global health-economic “hurricane”. We are now required again to shift the way we think about and do business in order to survive and eventually thrive again. When you have moments of discouragement, because we all will, let us remember the words of Dr. Steve Maraboli, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” As Virgin Islanders have durability in our DNA, and we will be first past the post, because we did as the sailors of old did, we knew when to tack when the winds change direction. I urge us all to stand firm as we safeguard lives and livelihoods in partnership with our Government for the long haul ahead of us.
I pause here to thank the Premier and the Minister of Health and their teams for their early and diligent response to the global pandemic to safeguard our community. We stand in support of public health and safety as the priority and we pledge to safeguard our employees and customers while doing business. As a business community, we understand that this is a time of sacrifice for all us as a society and we are committed to doing our part.
Today, we would like to share some of what the BVICCHA has been proactively doing on behalf of the business sector from the onset of this pandemic, recognizing the perceived economic fallout that would result. The BVICCHA’s Business Committee that is responsible for advocacy, formed a Business Task Force that is made up of businesses across our economic sectors. Coming out of our first meeting on 19th March, we submitted a situation report to our Premier and Minister of Finance with recommendations based on what was happening on the ground and the socioeconomic implications predicted. These recommendations included:
- Outstanding Payments Due: We recommended that the Treasury provide a capital injection to businesses by paying outstanding accounts over the next 90 days, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses. This is to mitigate business closures and employee layoffs.
- Unemployment Benefit: Using the Social Security Board’s sickness benefit as a model, we recommended the implementation of an unemployment benefit for employees for the next 90 days. We have since heard that this will require a study and legislative changes, however, we will continue to advocate for some type of employee assistance to be done in the near future because crises are not a matter of if but when, thus it is needed because our industries are vulnerable to economic shocks such as natural disasters and global events like a pandemic.
- Small Business Loans and/ or Grants: We highly recommended that as part of the emergency disaster fund, monies are allocated for economic injury to businesses during disasters and pandemics. We proposed that the BVICCHA is willing to support the development and administration of the loan program and facilitate training as part of the program to equip businesses to manage the funds prudently and truly aid their recovery.
- Deferment on Taxes and Public Utility Bills: We proposed that relief be given to employers and employees in the form of a waiver of taxes, electricity and water bills for the next 90 days in the first instance.
- Delivery of Public Services: Considering the remote working at most government offices, we highlighted the importance of e-Government initiatives to be ramped up to facilitate online access to public services.
We have assembled the core team of a Think-Tank that will start work on an Economic Recovery and Development Strategy which we will share with the Government once completed. It is important we advance our socioeconomic recovery by developing solutions for economic diversification, enhanced regulatory framework for the ease of doing business, fostering regional trading partnerships, identifying supply chain diversity, and building disaster risk reduction systems. Businesses are the driving force of the economy and now is the time for business leadership to rise to the challenges ahead of us.
The Business Committee Task Force continued to meet and wrote again on 26 April in response to the plan presented for the reopening of the economy. In that correspondence we submitted the following:
- Economic and Fiscal Task Force Membership: We requested to be a member of the Economic and Fiscal Task Force to bring the business community’s perspective to the decision-making process and ensure the various business dynamics are taken into consideration thereby lessening policy adjustments in reaction to feedback. Clear communication is key in this atmosphere of anxiety and we would like to help facilitate a smooth transition to the new business normal. We will also be able to give input in real-time on what are “essential” businesses because of the interconnectivity of the supply chains needed to support the implementation of public health guidelines. We would have also flagged the omission of the marine sector as we have both land-based and marine-based industries that are being affected.
- Operating Hours: We also proposed that the curfew window be reduced and allow for a 12-hour window, 6 am to 6 pm, to give businesses and the public adequate time to conduct their business, with less crowding and employees are able to do their personal business after work.
- Tourism: Hotel & Restaurant
- Professional Services
To stimulate our domestic economy, we will be refreshing the Chamber’s Buy BVI campaign to encourage the support of our local businesses.
We will host more Q&A forums to educate businesses on the latest developments and for information sharing. We are also developing webinars on business continuity, financial management, insurance planning, and business leadership to empower our business sector to be prepared for the upcoming hurricane season and equip themselves for any eventuality. You can also reach out to us for business support services to help you adapt to this new business normal. I encourage all businesses to stay connected to the BVICCHA by renewing their membership or joining the Association on our website at www.bviccha.org. And because we practice what we preach, dues are deferred for 90 days.
Remember, Your Business Is Our Business! We Got You! Practice good hygiene and physical distancing. Be safe and be well. Tough times do not last but tough people do!
Thank you for your time and attention.
I would like to now ask our President of Hospitality, Mrs. Chaunci Cline who chairs our Hospitality Committee to share what the Tourism Working Group has already started as an example to pique persons interest to sign up for any of the sector working groups.