Chamber talks to Govt. about help

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry has asked the Government to “stabilise the economy” and help employees keep their jobs as the nation’s finances buckle under the weight of COVID-19. 

Chief Executive Officer, Lemauga Hobart Va’ai, said the organisation has broached the topic of relaxing state of emergency regulations to allow buses, taxi vans, restaurants and supermarkets to resume more normal operating conditions.

It has also asked for a stimulus package to “restore business confidence” and help companies build themselves back up, but would not detail what kind of package it has asked for.

“We have provided government via the Ministry of Finance with specific requests to assist the private sector, businesses and employers maintain or rescue businesses from the full effect of COVID-19 and protect the private sector’s contribution to Samoa’s gross domestic product (G.D.P.),” Lemauga said in a statement.

The Chamber has been in extensive discussions with the Government, including Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi to work on ensuring the private sector survives the effects of the pandemic.

Even before the virus appears to have reached Samoa’s shores, the impact of international and local border closures and cruise ship cancellations on tourism, and the state of emergency measures for the country, have caused job losses and in some cases businesses to close their doors.

This week the Chamber reached out to its members to try and learn the full extent of the pandemic impacts via an online survey shared to its Facebook page. For now, Lemauga cannot estimate how many businesses have been damaged nor how much money has been lost.

“We estimate this will be substantial,” he said.

“Tourism alone contributes 25 per cent of Samoa’s G.D.P. and this has pretty much been closed, so you can imagine the impact on all other industries.”

According to the Ministry of Health, 26 people so far have been tested for COVID-19 and 20 tests have been returned negative. Six additional tests are awaiting transport to a laboratory in either New Zealand or Australia where the swab can be tested by an appropriate machine. 

If the country continues to have no confirmed cases, the Chamber wants to see health authorities lower the risk level the country is in, and relax regulations on movement and trade to allow businesses to get going again.

“This will return some level of normality to everyday life and be a stimulus to keep the economy turning,” Lemauga said. 

Without broad community testing there is no way to conclusively know whether Samoa has no cases of COVID-19. In lieu of a wide testing strategy, the World Health Organisation has urged countries to practice physical distancing and maintain at least two metres of space away from others in public, and to reduce large gatherings.

People who have recently travelled, or been with anyone who has should isolate for two weeks to monitor for symptoms and report any changes or symptoms like fever and dry cough to their health authorities.

The measures Government has made to slow the arrival of COVID-19 get the Chamber’s tick of approval, Lemauga said, especially closing down the airport while keeping sea freight open to cargo. 

“These are unprecedented times which require unprecedented measures to both ensure our people’s lives are saved but also our communities, businesses and the economy are protected.

“We acknowledge efforts to date by our government, businesses and the community and call on government to capitalize on its networks and partnerships to help businesses maintain economic activity, protect employment and limit the impacts on the economy.”

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