Chamber yet to raise stimulus measures

The Samoa Chamber of Commerce says it has not raised the prospect of a stimulus package for Samoa's struggling economy amid the coronavirus-led global economic downturn. 

As the coronavirus pummels the global and local economy, Governments around the world have resorted to massive spending programmes to keep their economy afloat. (On Tuesday New Zealand announced plans to spend NZD$12 billion to avoid what its Finance Minister said was a near-certain recession). 

Travel restrictions and a severe dip in tourist numbers have hit the private sector of Samoa hard, Chamber President Jennifer Fruean said. The lobby group has been talking to the Government about how to help. 

But for now, that help is focused on public awareness of the virus, travel restrictions and what everyone can do to stop the spread of the virus known as C.O.V.I.D.-19 should it arrive in Samoa, but money for struggling businesses is not yet on the table, Ms. Fruean said.

“No, we have not touched on that specifically,” she told the Samoa Observer.

“We fully understand that with all things there needs to be a proper assessment and consideration must be given to those areas that require this.”

There has not been a date set for when such a survey would begin or be completed by.

Ms. Fruean said the organisation's first priority is ensuring the private sector has a voice at the table alongside Government and the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation in ongoing discussions about the global pandemic. 

The Chamber has also met with health experts to prepare a presentation to the membership on preparation best practices.

“It’s our request and our hope that our dialogue will continue so that we ensure the private sector is aligned, that the best solutions are available to ensure the flow of resources continue smoothly as well as minimising or removing the risk of unplanned consequences from this pandemic on our country,” she said.

Last week, the Samoa Hotels Association intimated it will be going to Government to beg for financial help as hotels contend with empty rooms and cancelled bookings. The Chamber of Commerce, of which S.H.A. is a member, has been supporting their requests. 

There needs to be a close look at how to stimulate the hotel sector, and to increase arrival numbers, Ms. Fruean said.

In its recently conducted business confidence survey, the Chamber is hearing one message consistently, she said: the chaos a pandemic coming on the heels of the measles epidemic is wreaking on a struggling industry.

Asked whether the Chamber Board has met directly with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, Ms. Fruean said only that: “We have dialogue at all levels in Government.

“We know the private sector has been hit hard, especially following the measles epidemic, but that has had an impact on government as well.

“It’s an opportunity to continue the dialogue and see what can be done and how that can be done.” 

So far, travellers hoping to come to Samoa from 33 countries including Australia, America and the United Kingdom have to wait out a self-quarantine period of 14 days, be cleared by a medical professional within three days of arrival and pass a C.O.V.I.D.-19 test.

Travellers coming from New Zealand currently need only to have their three-day early medical clearance before checking in to fly to Samoa.

Flights have been slashed from all destinations to Samoa to just a handful a week, and citizens everywhere are advised to postpone their non-essential travel.

“The restrictions emanating from the preventative measures in place, which are understandably there to protect our borders, have impacted on all sectors but tourism and the interconnected industries have been hit the hardest,” Ms. Fruean said.

“The industry has come forward to ask for the help of the local market to fill this gap but it certainly is an area that needs to be explored and to look at solutions to deal with the impact on this industry.

“We need to create balance, protecting our borders but at the same time trade has to continue. We need to find alternative solutions so we can achieve both at the same time and not have unplanned financial implications for our country.”

Figures released by the Central Bank released last week forecast a 1.1 per cent contraction in the nation's economic output by the final quarter of the current Financial Year. 

New Zealand's stimulus measures amounted to a total of four per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product. An equivalent figure for Samoa would amount to about $95 million. 

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