By Neil Hartnell
Tribune Business Editor
The private sector is “compiling” its concerns over the potential 30-day lockdown extension and the sectors that will be exempted for presentation to the government, it was revealed last night.
Khrystle Rutherford-Ferguson, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) chairman, told Tribune Business that the volume of issues expressed by businesses were “not overwhelming” given the general understanding that this nation needed to do everything possible to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking after Carl Bethel QC, the attorney general, revealed that Parliament will likely debate on Monday whether to extend the existing lockdown for a further 30 days, with a 14-day period also an option, Mrs Rutherford-Ferguson said the private sector was also keen for the government to use all stimulus tools at its disposal to minimise the growing economic fall-out.
“We’re in the process of compiling our list of concerns, and are in constant dialogue with the Government,” she said, after this newspaper was informed of growing disquiet in the business community about the lockdown’s duration. “There are not overwhelming concerns. There are some concerns we are compiling.
“The business community understands that these measures are being enacted to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all Bahamians and residents while the Government is actually seeking to contain the spread of COVID-19. We continue to use our seat on the National Co-Ordination Committee to communicate any recommendations or unintended consequences of these measures.”
Mrs Rutherford-Ferguson added that the private sector was also “in the process of compiling” suggestions to the Government on which additional sectors should be considered as “essential” and allowed to continue operating within the requirements of social distancing protocols.
“We appreciate the advice of the medical practitioners,” she added. “I’m sure the Government will make adjustments to the recommendations where necessary. The approach thus far has been one of collaboration, and on that premise we continue to have the ability to voice any matter that should be addressed or considered. The Government has had an open ear with regard to our recommendations.”
The Chamber chair revealed that the private sector was now eagerly awaiting the “second phase” of the Government’s stimulus measures to prop up a battered economy still reeling from the virtual complete shutdown of a tourism industry that provides 40 percent of economic output and almost 50 percent of total employment.
“The business community is looking forward to phase two of the fiscal measures that will be taken to assist businesses,” Mrs Rutherford-Ferguson added. “He [the deputy prime minister] acknowledged that was phase one, and there will likely be additional measures implemented. We are looking forward to what those additional measures will be.”
She described the likes of the $20m small business loan support initiative, and $10m allocated to unemployment benefit for self-employed and temporarily laid-off workers, as just the start of the Government’s efforts to prevent a Bahamian economic collapse.
“That is a bridge,” she explained of the steps announced thus far by K. Peter Turnquest. “It will bridge that gap between the losses of businesses and the losses of their employees. For that reason it is definitely a step in the right direction. We just encourage the Government to look at utilising all its fiscal levers.
“The fiscal measures announced will assist in bridging the gap between maintaining minimum levels of cash flow and maintaining payrolls for as long as possible notwithstanding the loss in revenues. The business community recognises that critical to weathering these challenging times is the ability to manage its costs and provide support to its employees.”