Members of the Montserrat Opposition and private sector business owners have increased their calls for the MCAP-led government to provide urgent financial support to starve off economic disaster here. However, Montserrat’s premier Joseph Farrell has called the Opposition’s request for an urgent stimulus “unreasonable” and said they are working on a plan to manage the ongoing crisis.
Opposition Leader Paul Lewis said Wednesday “the 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.” Lewis called for the government to apply for stimulus funds from the UK, which must include salary support for workers across all affected sectors, along with universal assistance to local businesses.
Businessman Julian Romeo said on the popular programme What’s on Your Mind Tuesday, that private sector businesses are unsure of what their obligations are to staff who have been unable to work for two weeks. He said small businesses who did not qualify for any stimulus cheques in 2020 are broken and this second lockdown will decimate them. He questioned the timing of the Remote Workers Stamp programme, which he said would not fly if the private sector, who is expected to serve and benefit from the scheme, are out of business. He called for the Department of Labour to give clarity on whether employers could reduce salaries or expect some support to continue to meet their obligations.
Entrepreneur and entertainer Reinford “Kulcha Don” Gibbons said on the same radio programme, that almost a year ago when the St. Patrick’s Festival was cancelled at it’s peak, the government had shortly after promised assistance to the promoters who lost significant revenue from the abrupt ending. No support has been received to date.
Opposition member and former premier Donaldson Romeo said the latest lockdown, which began on February 6 “edges the island closer to disaster. Help is needed now.”
Romeo provided a three-step approach to his recommended EC $7.5 million lockdown stimulus, which he suggests should be given to every resident and business on Montserrat.
1. Immediate disbursement of EC $550 for food and cooking gas to each citizen or resident (man, woman and child) as a cash grant or voucher.
2. EC$ 4.5 million, must follow soon after the first disbursement, to support households for food, rent or mortgage and essential utilities (water, electricity, telephone and internet service). The monies would be paid directly to the providers. Depending on assessed needs, this second step will provide varying levels of support to the majority of households on Montserrat.
3. The remaining EC $500,000 dollars should start a food security programme for Montserrat by providing shovel-ready jobs to the unemployed. Activities should include land clearing, preparation, fencing, providing storage and irrigation equipment and other infrastructure development for our commercial farmers and fishers. Crop production control, pesticide management, cost control to ensure quality, affordability and year-long local production and availability, as well as a subsidized water meter programme should be initially addressed.
“The three phased distribution of this EC $7.5 million (£2.0 million sterling) package will not erase the impact the multiple lockdowns faced over past year, but it will significantly ease the immediate economic pressure,” Romeo explained. He believes this stimulus will help businesses retain their staff and provide immediate relief. This approach, he hopes will give the government “additional time to initiate a comprehensive relief, stimulus and job creating plan.”
Premier and Minister of Finance Joseph Farrell said he was aware that this is politics and said “oppositions will make the most unreasonable proposals which may sound good to the ears but finding a solution to a problem/situation is always on the government and we are prepared to find a solution.”
Premier Farrell told Discover “None of us were planning for a second round of lockdown. It is the last thing your government ever wanted, it’s bad for the country. We were forced to impose measures to mitigate against the spread of the virus. As leader of government business I am aware of the impact a lock down would have on the residents and businesses. At the very outset, I instructed the Financial Secretary to see what is available to assist residents against the backdrop that nothing was forthcoming from the United Kingdom. At this time, we are modifying our systems and as soon as they are finalized I will make the announcement.”
Speaking on What’s On Your Mind, Keithroy “The Voice” Morson said the MCAP Government has not taken responsibility for the COVID-19 virus coming here. The ignored initial suggestions of using tracking bracelets for people in quarantine or using police to ensure they remained in isolation. Now, he said, the “lockdown is costing more than what it would have cost to put the measures in place.”
The government, he added, was more focused on whether locals were wearing mask and spent time putting in place legislation to increase penalties on residents, rather than police those coming into the island who are to be in quarantine.
“Our luck has run out. They lock us down with nothing in place. People who were not working before, what are they supposed to do. Government workers continue to get paid. The private sector was already dying now you’ve killed it,” said Morton.
He called for Governor Andrew Pearce to declare a state of emergency in order to get assistance from the UK.
“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,” Opposition Leader Paul Lewis declared.
Listen to Opposition Leader Paul Lewis’ statement
Listen to What’s On Your Mind