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Chamber assesses Govt's relief package

The President of the Chamber of Commerce, Jennifer Ula-Fruean, has acknowledged the Government’s economic relief package for the COVID-19 downturn as a start but says it is continuing to assess the details.

Close to $40 million in economic stimulus measures were part of the $66 million supplementary budget approved in Parliament on Tuesday. 

“We acknowledge the supplementary budget has addressed some crucial areas as an initial step and the Chamber driven by the demand of its membership will continue to dialogue on initiatives that support the stabilising and stimulating of the economy and protection of businesses and private sector employment,” said Ms. Ula-Fruean in response to questions from the Samoa Observer. 

Asked about the minimal reduction of importation taxes, Mrs. Fruean said they understand Tuesday was the Government’s preliminary responses to affected industries. 

“There is still an opportunity for the Chamber and its partner industry members to push for further assistance and stimulus should this situation prolong for our country. 

“We will continue to work with our businesses and members to determine areas requiring ongoing support.”

In a separate post on the Chamber of Commerce’s official Facebook page, it outlines their request for assistance to the Government.

The requests were collated as a result of two surveys which provided significant support for related submissions to the Government. 

Those responses formed the basis of two Government submissions, the Chamber said. 

“A response to the first submission led to a dialogue with the Minister and senior officials of the Ministry of Finance,” the statement said.

“The second submission provided a more comprehensive position by Chamber, outlining key priorities to be considered for Government assistance. A coordinated approach of assistance by way of a stimulus package was strongly encouraged.” 

The Chamber requested for the Accident Compensation Corporation to support a reduction in employer-related costs for the period of lockdown and the orders of the state of emergency. 

“For S.N.P.F. (Samoa National Provident Fund) to bring forward 50 per cent of payment of its planned dividend [is designed] to stimulate the economy,” the group said. 

“For C.B.S. (Central Bank of Samoa) to exercise proper control and regulation over unprecedented times; and to provide relief through the commercial banks to support impacted businesses and individuals.

“To subsidise electricity and water charges and to consider flexible arrangements for monthly bills to assist with business cash flow; to ease Import Duty on basic and essential supplies; to postpone deadline of income tax payments due and waive penalties for delayed payments; to release outstanding payments owed to local businesses to assist with cash flow and expedite required processes to avoid delays.” 

The Chamber further requests cost saving measures and Agricultural related project activities alongside support for the tourism, hotel and hospitality industries. 

Some $27.53 million of Tuesday’s package will assist the citizens mainly through relief and waivers on household loans. Another $12.5 million is for the private sector and includes waivers and deferrals in such forms as S.N.P.F. waivers for those in the tourism industry.  

The Accident Compensation Corporation is offering a six month moratorium on costs for the Hospitality Sector; a two month moratorium for all other sectors; two months’ rent free at any A.C.C. property including the Fugalei market and a $2 million capital injection to assist in financing the Stimulus Package.

Ms. Fruean told the Samoa Observer the Samoa Chamber of Commerce submission was informed by its membership.

“The package has only been made available today; the Chamber executive council will assess this as well as the feedback from our members before we are able to provide a full assessment,” she said. 

The Chamber also dismissed reports the monetary value of their proposal to the Government ran to $1 billion. 

“We do not validate this report; our submission requested a range of response and stimulus measures to stimulate the economy and help cushion the impact on businesses, employers and our workers,” she said. 

But the cost of its submission was not made clear. 

ThePresident said doubtlessly the tourism, hotels and hospitality industries had been hit the hardest and the first industry to release employment due to declining income.  

The Government’s stimulus package indicated that contributors made unemployed in the Hospitality sector by the downturn will be able to withdraw 20 percent of their contributors. 

“We acknowledge the support to bring forward the cashing of superannuation as an option to these impacted individuals,” she said. 

 “The package has only been received today, and we are reviewing what’s been offered. We however are grateful to the government of Samoa through the Ministry of Finance for the opportunity opened to the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and its industry partners to dialogue and provide input into priority areas for support.  

“We acknowledge the supplementary budget has addressed some crucial areas as an initial step and the Chamber driven by the demand of its membership will continue to dialogue on initiatives that support the stabilizing and stimulating of the economy and protection of businesses and private sector employment.” 

The following is the interview with Ms. Fruean verbatim:

QUESTION: As the President of the Samoa Chamber of Commerce, what are your thoughts regarding the stimulus package? Was it hat the Chamber expected? 

ANSWER: The Samoa Chamber of Commerce submission was informed by the collective membership feedback and responses to our 2 surveys that we had conducted.  The package has only been made available today (Tuesday), the Chamber executive council will assess this as well as the feedback from our members before we are able to provide a full assessment.

 QUESTION: There are reports that the Chamber's proposal to government for assistance was close to $1 billion. Can you confirm and comment?

ANSWER: We do not validate this report, our submission requested a range of response and stimulus measures to stimulate the economy and help cushion the impact on businesses, employers and our workers.

QUESTION: In terms of employment issues, what does the Chamber think about the response in relation to the tourism industry? 

ANSWER: It is without a doubt the tourism, hotels and hospitality industry has been hit the hardest, with the first industry to unfortunately release employment due to declining income and trading.  We acknowledge the support to bring forward the cashing of superannuation as an option to these impacted individuals.

 QUESTION: There are subsidies issued for companies that import in terms of taxes, is this enough in your views? 

ANSWER: We understand these are government’s preliminary responses to the affected industries and the economy, there is still an opportunity for the Chamber and its partner industry members to push for further assistance and stimulus should this situation prolongs for our country.  We will continue to work with our businesses and members to determine areas requiring ongoing support.

 QUESTION: Overall, from the Chamber’s perspective, can you comment on the package offered by the Government? How this will assist the business community? 

ANSWER: The package has only been received today (Tuesday), and we are reviewing what’s been offered. We however are grateful to the government of Samoa through the Ministry of Finance for the opportunity opened to the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and its industry partners to dialogue and provide input into priority areas for support.  We acknowledge the supplementary budget has addressed some crucial areas as an initial step and the Chamber driven by the demand of its membership will continue to dialogue on initiatives that support the stabilizing and stimulating of the economy  and protection of businesses and private sector employment.

QUESTION: The Government has offered to subsidise interest rates of all loans to the commercial banks, what are your thoughts on this?

ANSWER: Response measures are facilitated through commercial banks and the development bank to assist respond to impacted businesses and individuals.

 


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