Gov't, front line workers have saved us COVID-19 disaster

Gov't, front line workers have saved us COVID-19 disaster

...but the banks have failed us

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

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Dear Editor,

Prime Minister Andrew Holness and members of the team working on COVID-19 are to be congratulated for the excellent job they have done, so far, in controlling the spread of the disease. The financial support of small businesses, those laid off from work, and the unemployed should also be commended.

The successful control of the pandemic could not have been achieved without the support of us, the people. Thus, we commend our fellow Jamaicans for their adherence to and compliance with the COVID-19 protocols, which include wearing of masks, washing and sanitising of hands, social distancing, etc. This is, in large part, the reason for the relatively low infection rate.

Though many in Jamaica continue to flout the rules, the virus remains under control.

I must also congratulate the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) for the excellent job it has done in authoring the 120-page Jamaica Tourism Resilience COVID-19 Protocol document to harmonise the approach of the entire tourism sector. The sector is the breadbasket of this country and must be protected from the rapid influx of foreign visitors. Hoteliers, moreover, are a very fragile component of Jamaica's financial security and must be strictly managed so as not to endanger our overseas patrons.

A 'second wave' of new cases could derail plans to reopen the economy. The return to normality must be predicated upon the certainty that the health risks have been brought under control. I remain hopeful that the documented protocols will be strictly implemented by all participants in the tourism industry.

As we congratulate the JTB and its associates, we must also ask: What is the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) contributing to the sector? Given its retention of millions of dollars generated by the industry, isn't it time for TEF to provide some financial assistance in the form of grants, low-income and/or no-interest loans, particularly to small operators who, if not already bankrupt, are facing bankruptcy?

We should also like to recommend that the Guest Accommodation Room Tax (GART) be temporarily suspended, if not permanently discontinued for all small hotels.

We must also commend the immigration, Customs, and security services teams, as well as other front line operatives at our ports and airports, for doing such a great job of ensuring that our visitors and residents satisfy the criteria for entry and re-entry into the country.

Even as we acknowledge the hard work involved in the everyday enforcement of COVID-19 protocols, we must condemn the failure of our banks to serve the people at a time when we should be unified in our efforts to keep the country infection-free; each one supporting, working with, and caring for the other. Just when we require financial support the banks have seen it fit to implement staff cuts and impose shorter opening hours. The result has been longer lines and waiting times. The failure to provide adequate waiting areas results in sidewalk gridlock and breaches of the social distancing guidelines. The huge disparity between US dollar buying and selling exchange rates, often as much as 20 per cent, inflates utility costs and decreases the value of foreign currency remittances to family and friends. Moreover, the countless hours spent waiting in line abets the loss of productivity and income. The way in which the banks have treated their customers and the recipients of government assistance is an absolute disgrace.

If that wasn't enough pressure on the banking public, we were taken by surprise on Friday, July 10, 2020, when a certain bank stopped offering particular services, including the cashing of cheques, cash withdrawals from business accounts, and a number of other critical services, which left everyone congregating in front of the bank, not knowing what was going on and where to turn for funding. As a customer, the institution in question needs to explain the reason for its decision and where, when, and how we will be able to make cash withdrawals from our personal accounts.

Derrick Hamilton

St Thomas

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