As published on ptcommunity.com, Monday 18 May, 2020.
LONDON, May 18, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Roosevelt Skerrit, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica, takes a cautious approach to reopening the economy before gaining a sense of "business as usual". Addressing the nation on Sunday evening, the PM announced that all 16 COVID-19 patients had now fully recovered. He acknowledges that the threat of the pandemic is not over, urging people to stay home and practice social distancing until a vaccine is found.
To revive the economy, PM Skerrit proposes a phased plan of lifting restrictions, a series of financial support measures and fiscal incentives to encourage job retention and protect businesses, and guidelines for each sector, enforced strictly. He explained that, to implement this plan, the government is using funding from several sources, one of which is the country's world-leading Citizenship by Investment (CBI) Programme. Healthcare, agriculture and construction are some of the main areas the government will focus on.
"As of today, Sunday 19th of May, we have no active COVID-19 cases," the PM said on in his address to the nation, "but now is not the time to let our guard down." He explained that, "as we move forward, there are also additional measures we must take to help cushion the effects of the pandemic on our citizens, as well as the plan to transition to the further reopening of the economy. We have spent over 22 million dollars in direct costs in our response to the pandemic so far and there will be increasing demands to spend more."
PM Skerrit outlined two major areas that required immediate financial support: healthcare and agriculture. "We have dramatically increased budgetary funding to the Ministries of Health and Agriculture – the Ministry of Health because it is the lead ministry in our response to the pandemic, and agriculture – because what has been made clearer than ever before is the importance of enhancing our food security and improving export earnings from this sector."
With regards to agriculture, in particular, the PM detailed who some of the beneficiaries of the state aid are. "To assist with meeting the cost of farm labour and other direct costs, cash grants have been approved to approximately 2,500 individual crop farmers […] This intervention is valued at EC$3.5 million." The PM believes this meets residents' need for food security and wellbeing: "We are confident that the interventions by the government will help lower the food import bill, reduce household expenditure, improve dietary quality and increase sustainable employment. We should also see higher export volumes and increased income for families."
Last week, the Prime Minister rolled out the initiative to distribute food packages to those in need. On Sunday, he gave more details on the scheme, which balances local producers' immediate requirements. "We have also agreed to purchase fish and fresh produce from farmers and fishers who are prepared to sell directly to [the] government. Some of this produce will also be distributed to the most vulnerable in our communities. An amount of 3 million dollars has been set aside to facilitate this programme."
The government of Dominica sees the construction sector as key to reviving the economy and create jobs, with investments worth nearly 300 million dollars for an island populated by just over 70,000 people. "We are putting plans and policies in place to stimulate other sectors of the economy, especially the construction sector, which will positively impact employment," PM Skerrit explained.
"Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, the government was able to successfully jumpstart the economy through the commencement of numerous large infrastructure projects. The government is expected to sign a number of high-value contracts over the next few days while many other projects will begin soon. We will also be implementing multiple infrastructure projects with expenditure of up to 100 million dollars. Total additional investments in construction are expected to amount to at least 296.8 million dollars." The PM further added that his Cabinet was "excited that these projects will be felt in every corner of this country."
Furthermore, Premier Skerrit reiterated that the authorities are preparing for the annual hurricane season and is thus fast-tracking the completion of several projects under the Housing Revolution, fully sponsored by the Citizenship by Investment Programme. "Being mindful of the approaching hurricane season, [the] government will also continue its aggressive housing programme and accelerate it where possible," the PM said.
After explaining a series of fiscal measures to aid micro- and small businesses, incentives to retain and create jobs, PM Skerrit said that "as a responsible government, we must take action to ensure a balanced approach and the sustainability of the healthcare system, government's finances and the economy." He explained that his Cabinet intends to finance the measures he announced on Sunday "through a combination of loans, government revenue, including CBI funds, and reduction in recurrent expenditure."
Meanwhile, the tourism industry has understandably come to a halt. However, should the current trajectory be maintained, the PM expects opening borders to "at least regional travel" by July. Foreign investors wishing to contribute to Dominica's recovery efforts and obtain its valuable citizenship can do this through the CBI Programme, ranked number one in the world for three consecutive years. After being carefully screened, CBI applicants can become citizens by either contributing US$100,000 to the Economic Diversification Fund or investing at least US$200,000 in pre-approved real estate.