Now that many businesses are allowed to reopen throughout the week, Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Beckles said the next level of advocacy for the business community will be around resuming weekend operations.
For weeks the Chamber has liaised with the government and the private sector to strike a workable balance ensuring safety for Bahamian consumers from the novel coronavirus and continued stimulation of the local economy.
“The achievement of the efforts of the Chamber speaks to the fact that we been able to now get that sector open to now five days a week, for about 10 to 12 hours a day and that is a giant step. That has enabled more companies to bring more people back to work on a full-time basis and remove them from the social support network, which is great because we’re lessening the burden on NIB (National Insurance Board), for instance. But it also speaks to the fact that we are going to continue our advocacy,” Beckles told Guardian Business yesterday.
“Obviously, the weekends are still an issue, but five days a week is fantastic because you basically are there for five of six of the operating days of the week, except Saturday. So we see that as a positive. We continue to dialogue with various sectors…to understand how the adjustments are going and what adjustments still need to be made. All of this is against the backdrop of getting the economy open again, getting it open safely, to where there is a careful balance between health and the economy. So we continue to engage even though those permissions have been given to reopen with some guidelines.”
During his 2020/2021 budget communication in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest announced several key initiatives to support businesses during the next fiscal year.
They include an allocation of $55 million for the development of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), a $30 million expansion of the Business Continuity Loan Program for businesses adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and an expansion of the tax deferral program up to $120 million.
Beckles said at this point it’s difficult for the Chamber to determine what the initial or medium-term outcome of those initiatives will be.
“What we have to do is work the details of what has been offered thus far and that’s where we have to get with our stakeholders in the private sector, and really examine the offerings in this budget and flesh through the numbers, as well as the practicality of what has been offered. And then there’s the determination of how effective it is. From that point we feel confident we can go back to the government and say, ‘Hey look, it’s a great gesture, we’ve fleshed it through and talked it over with our stakeholders and here is what we believe is the predicted outcome,’ and then make the adjustments from there,” he said.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced a further reduction of restrictions on businesses, allowing all storefronts throughout the country to resume operations beginning next week, so long as they adhere to social distancing and hygiene protocols.
Beckles said although businesses will be emerging from a tumultuous time, having been shuttered for more than 70 days, the challenges won’t end there.
“There’s always this ebb and flow in terms of understanding what’s needed. However, it’s going to be difficult for companies during this next 30 days, it is going to continue to be difficult, as we have seen in other places around the world,” he said.
“So yes, by natural attrition some companies are going to find it more difficult over the next 30 days, but I think the fact that we have been able to make progress to this point is also serving as a beam of confidence.”