Author: Hon Paul J. Lewis | Date: 17 February 2021
Montserrat's Leader of the Opposition Hon Paul J Lewis presents a statement on the economic impact of lockdown, with solutions on how to assist the people of Montserrat.
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"We are now in a lockdown here on Montserrat, where businesses are being forced to close, which means loss of livelihoods for many of our people.
Our children’s education will also be impacted as some parents cannot do all that is necessary for their children’s education from home.
Meanwhile, the cry for help from the wider public and from the business community is very loud.
While it is clear that the tourism sector has been badly hit, many other sectors are suffering and feeling the negative effects of this COVID-19 lockdown, and the pandemic on a whole.
Government of Montserrat’s mission and strategic plan must be to immediately bring into play relief and stimulus packages for all private sector businesses and affected individuals and families on island.
The Government’s second stimulus application to the UK for more monies must include salary support for workers across all affected sectors along with universal assistance to businesses. We are also pressing the Government to provide this salary support to our workers, as opposed to partial selective sector grants. Salary support is needed now! Special arrangements and measures must be made to forestall and address areas of poverty that will burden our people.
In their representation and negotiations for relief and stimulus for Montserrat, the approach from GoM must be seen to be from a people first perspective.
The FCDO indicated they are awaiting another poverty assessment and labour market survey. However, the Opposition persisted and argued strongly when we met with them, for immediate relief and stimulus in the absence of these two reports.
I can assure you the people, that the Opposition also reminded FCDO and The Government that a lockdown means lockdown - where schools are closed, businesses are closed, and workers are home with the exception of essential workers. Some of these workers at home will not be paid, as their employers cannot afford to do so. This will be a further crippling blow to our fledgling economy.
These considerations bring us to some questions, for which the people need answers.
The Opposition Team recently concluded a very positive meeting with the full Financial Assistance Team (FAM) of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) along with the Governor of Montserrat, His Excellency, the Governor Andrew Pearce.
The Opposition argued for financial assistance for people and businesses affected by the shutdown. The Opposition equally insisted this should be an immediate response, similar to established practices in the United Kingdom.
A number of immediate aid, and strategic steps to help the people of Montserrat’s COVID-19 response were discussed, while also insisting that further assistance from the United Kingdom ought to be a priority, in order to lessen the blow of another COVID-19 Lockdown on Montserrat.
We expected the Government to have had a plan to immediately begin to help our people. This could have been done from possible use of EDF-11 COVID support funds, ECCB support funds, plus balances on the GoM accounts to support any short-term lockdown, while they waited for the United Kingdom to provide additional support.
Since ‘lock-down means lock-down’ we expected support measures to have been available in any government plan, before any shutdown was announced.
Shutdown is upon us and still we hear nothing from this Administration going into another week of lockdown.
We call on the government to implement across the board support, covering all workers and businesses, in ALL sectors.
We need this support provided as soon as possible to avoid further economic deterioration and other social issues that may arise.
in the meantime, we have also impressed upon London the need for strategic projects to support the medium and long-term survival of all sector workers in Montserrat. Whether it be relief or stimulus packages for Montserrat, this government and the United Kingdom need to do something for our people, and fast.
I do hope the Premier will now come forward and tell the people what the general plan of action would be in this lockdown and going forward.
Hopefully, lessons learnt from the first lockdown will mean that the government is better prepared and more organized in delivering a comprehensive relief and stimulus package this time around. We hope they do not make the mistake of buying food packages and using this to say that the economy is performing well. Their duty is to aid the people, and to do their utmost to keep the economy afloat until things change here on island.
In closing, I call on all of us as citizens to act responsibly to protect ourselves and others.
I call on the government to also act quickly to provide assistance and relief where necessary for ALL the people of this island.