By YOURI KEMP
The Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive yesterday underscored the difficulties in recovering from Hurricane Dorian by revealing that around 50 percent of storm-hit businesses were not fully insured.
Jeffrey Beckles told Tribune Business that “getting small business back up and running” is critical to Abaco and Grand Bahama’s economic revival as many lack the capital resources to fully rebuild their enterprises.
He added that about “50% of the businesses are currently underinsured”, including firms with no insurance at all. “You may have insurance coverage on your building, but you may not have insurance protection against fire, flood or hurricanes, or any sort of catastrophic insurance,” Mr Beckles said.
“As a result, for us at the chamber, this is an opportunity for us to educate small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) on the type of insurance and how to understand their insurance policy.”
However, the fact that half the private sector likely lacked proper insurance coverage illustrates how long and hard the economy’s post-Dorian road to recovery will be in Abaco and Grand Bahama. Many companies, lacking the necessary financing or will to rebuild, may simply elect not to re-open with all the issues that creates for employment on the two islands.
Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA) executives earlier this week estimated that total Dorian-related claims payouts may exceed $500m, and Mr Beckles lamented that many SMEs have “no resiliency mechanisms built into their businesses”
He added: “Many of them have to now start from scratch, and as a Chamber we have to continually preach and teach the importance of utilising information technology, most particularly with regard to protecting their business and financial information.”
Mr Beckles said the Chamber is still assessing the primary needs for SMEs throughout the Dorian-ravaged areas, but added: “Many SMEs need access to financing, and I am glad that Central Bank has relaxed the financing requirements and lending conditions as a result of the storm.”
He said the Chamber will “have to speak to the commercial banks and other private lenders to where we can encourage them to lend some of this $2bn in liquidity at lower interest rates so that they can help support small businesses in their recovery efforts. It makes no sense for the Central Bank to relax the lending requirements if the commercial banks don’t follow suit and help out”.
Mr Beckles said the Chamber was satisfied with talks with the Government on post-Dorian exigency orders and other initiatives announced to aid businesses, and added that the rebuilding effort needs to be a “very strategic and well thought-out process”.
“As a Chamber we are focusing fundamentally on showing our support and sympathy to those affected by the storm,” he said. Grand Bahama Chamber of Chamber members have revealed the private sector has suffered significant loss, Mr Beckles added, and that it was going to take some time for the economy to recover.
“These are not just regular storms, but increasingly stronger and stronger storms that have been continually punching them in the mouth,” the Chamber chief said.