Excerpt From Minister Of Finance Camilo Gonsalves Ministerial Statement
In crafting the Recovery and Stimulus Package the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines attempted to do all that was possible to promote an inclusive recovery that benefited as many segments of society as possible. This broad-based, inclusive recovery package specifically targeted the a number of defined sectors, including:
- Persons who may be exposed to Coronavirus infection;
- Workers displaced or laid off due to closures in the hospitality sector;
- Workers in the formal sector laid off by business closures or cut-backs;
- Workers in the informal sector, particularly vendors, cart operators;
- Taxi, water taxi, and tour bus operators;
- Minibus operators;
- Vulnerable Vincentians, especially the elderly and those facing increased financial or nutritional vulnerability;
- Farmers and fisherfolk;
- Creative and cultural professionals;
- Entrepreneurs and small business owners;
- Those experiencing difficulties in making loan payments to financial institutions; and
- Those experiencing difficulties in paying utility bills.
I am pleased to report to this Honourable House that, over the past two-and-a-half months, each and every aspect of the Government’s Recovery programme has commenced and is being implemented. With the exception of the health and agricultural sectors, which are the subject of separate Ministerial statements, the following targeted recovery measures have been implemented:
First, as of 12th June, 2020, the Government has paid Displacement Supplementary Income to 1,496 Vincentians. These 1,496 Vincentians were affected by the closures in the hospitality sector. To date, the monthly $300 payment to these 1,496 Vincentians has cost the Government $1.02 million.
Second, as of 12th June, 2020, an additional 1,100 Vincentians have received a similar $300 per month via the Unemployment Benefit offered by the National Insurance Services. This programme has paid just over $600,000 to date.
In total, therefore, 2,596 Vincentians are receiving income support through either the Displacement Supplementary Income or the Unemployment Benefit. These 2,596 Vincentians represent 82% of the 3,164 claims that have been filed to date. Many of the unpaid claims are awaiting additional supporting documentation, while some have been rejected on various grounds. The data indicate that 60% of the beneficiaries of these programmes are women, and
that 66% are under the age of 44. On average, these programmes replaced approximately 30% of the beneficiaries’ pre-pandemic wages.
Further, as announced by the Honourable Prime Minister in his 25th March Address to the Nation,6 the NIS has provided a pre-payment of two months pension benefits for all categories of pensioners (contributory and non-contributory) so as to facilitate upfront costs of pensioners at this time. This important initiative benefited a total 8,189 pensioners.
Third, workers in the informal sector, particularly vendors in towns and those who traditionally dependent on trade adjacent to schools, are eligible for Interim Assistance Benefits of $300 per month for three months. A special window was created to make a one-off payment of $300 to handcart operators. In total, 1,644 informal sector workers – inclusive of 105 handcart operators have received Interim Assistance Benefits. To date, these benefits have cost approximately $460,000.
Additionally, a further 60 vendors who traditionally plied their trade along the sea wall were given a compensation package of $4,500 each to remove their structures and vacate the sea wall area as a prelude to the construction of the modern port and cargo terminal. The compensation, totalling $275,000, makes provision for three months income support of $715 per month, in addition to amounts for the value of their structure, removal allowance and timely removal bonus. This compensation, previously agreed by the Cabinet, was timed to maximise its benefit to those vendors affected by the pandemic-related slowdown in activity.
Fourth, vulnerable Vincentians –particularly the elderly the disabled, or those experiencing increased financial vulnerability as a result of the pandemic – received another type of Interim Assistance Benefit. This benefit is a monthly payment of $200 for the remainder of the year. Six hundred Vincentians are currently receiving this benefit. To date, approximately $260,000 has been spent on this programme.
Fifth, a total of 451 minibus operators have registered to receive two months of income support of $500 or $600 for 18-seater and 25-seat or larger buses, respectively. The Government paid approximately $180,000 to 351 operators. A further payment to the larger 451-operator cohort is expected shortly.
Additionally, through negotiations with the minibus operators, the Government agreed to accelerate the process by which changes in the price of fuel is passed on to the consumer. Taking advantage of falling oil prices, the Government dispensed with the rolling three-month average model and reduced gasoline and diesel prices twice in quick succession. While these fuel reductions benefit all automobile-owning Vincentians, they are of particular benefit to minibus operators who fill their tank multiple times per week. Indeed, some owners are saving between $500 and $800 per month on fuel as compared to the pre-COVID prices.
Sixth, one-off income support payments to operators of taxis, water taxis and tour busses will reach an additional 391 registrants. This includes 315 taxis, 44 water taxies and 32 tour buses. A total of 84 of these operators – or 23% – operate in the Grenadines. Taxis, water taxis and tour buses (25-seater and above), registered with the SVG Tourism Authority, receive a one-off payment of $500, $300 and $2,000 respectively. To date, 380 operators have received approximately $230,000 via this programme.
Seventh, 411 cultural and creative professionals who were adversely affected by the cancellations of Carnival, Easterval, the Bequia Regatta and the prohibitions on amplified music will receive various honoraria through the Ministry of Culture and the Carnival Development Corporation. These professions, who include calypsonians, mas men and women, steelpan tuners and arrangers, and cultural ambassadors, will receive a total of approximately $250,000.
Eighth, entrepreneurs and small business owners are receiving grant support through the PRYME and PRYME+ programmes. The progress of this programme will be discussed more fully later. To date, 254 entrepreneurs have been approved for grants totalling $1.75 million.
Ninth, the six-month moratorium programme announced by the Honourable Prime Minister7 for the payment of principal and interest on various consumer and business loans is on-going. Among local banks and financial institutions, 1,637 borrowers are utilising the moratorium on loans totalling $141 million. Among the non-indigenous institutions, namely CIBC, RBTT and Republic Banks, approximately 800 borrowers have triggered the moratorium on $162 million in loans. As such, 2,437 borrowers are availing themselves of the moratorium, on loans totalling $303 million. The $303 million in loans under moratorium at the moment represent 18% of the institutions’ collective private sector loan portfolio.
Tenth, the further moratorium on water and electricity bills is also providing relief to Vincentians during this difficult period. According to data from the Central Water and Sewerage Authority (CWSA), 1,520 customers over the last three months would have been disconnected were it not for the moratorium. An additional 380 persons took advantage of the free reconnection announced by the Honourable Prime Minister.8 These 1,900 customers represent approximately five per cent of the CWSA’s active customer base.
While the Saint Vincent Electricity Services (VINLEC) did not provide a number of customers benefitting from the moratorium, it did indicate that, between March 20 and May 20, there was a 52% increase in accounts receivable for 60 days for domestic customers and a 7% increase for commercial customers. This upsurge in past-due bills represents an increase of $580,000 over pre-moratorium receivables.
Eleventh, with all deference to the statement to be made by the Honourable Minister of Agriculture, it is important to mention in passing the hugely successful and popular “Love Box” initiative, which utilizes church and NGO networks to distribute boxes of local agricultural produce to vulnerable families across Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. To date, the Love Box initiative has distributed 5,000 boxes to over 3,500 families nationwide. A total of 370 farmers are selling their produce to Love Box aggregators, and approximately $300,000 has been spent on the initiative to date.
Further, the Zero Hunger Trust Fund is providing input support of $500 to an additional 200 farmers.