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Western Ja business leaders have mixed views on call for another stimulus package

Thursday, January 21, 2021

LUCEA, Hanover - There are mixed views among the business community across western Jamaica on a call by Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Janet Silvera for the Government to provide another multi-billion-dollar stimulus package, similar to what was provided last year, to cushion the blow caused by the coronavirus pandemic on the economy.

While Negril and Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce presidents have supported the call made by their counterpart in Montego Bay; however, the Hanover Chamber of Commerce is not in full support of such a move.

“I can't say that I would necessarily agree with a stimulus now based on how we definitely would have to pay for that,” stated Garey Whittaker, the Hanover Chamber of Commerce president, in making reference to the ability of the country to afford another package.

“The last stimulus did give some traction in the economy. You saw it spending back in the economy but I am not sure how much growth you would have seen and how much of it you would see in terms of continuous business because I mean, you get $10,000 and you go to the grocery shop with it one time, you know, that's it,” he added.

Whittaker further suggested that if a stimulus package is being handed out, maybe it should be given to the construction industry.

Silvera made the call for another stimulus package last week during a press conference in Montego Bay.

“To tackle the gross lack of revenue, we are asking the Government to consider another stimulus package, especially for the tourism sector. The livelihoods of many have been severely affected and there are not many alternatives at this time. Children are without food and educational supplies because parents are out of work or are forced to accept a pay cut and cannot make ends meet. Business owners are feeling it, and many are still trying, carrying the weight of their employees and the welfare of their employees' families on their backs,” she argued.

“We need the help. Businesses need stimulus to help them stay afloat and retain their employees. The spending power of our citizens heavily impacts the viability of our economy.”

She further argued that while she is proud of her members who continue to be resilient and loyal to their employees, customers and the community in the face of such hardship, the reality is that local businesses have experienced a reduction in business, many as high as 80 per cent.

Moses Chybar, president of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce, said he is in full support of Silvera's call.

“It is a call that I definitely support because businesses right now are struggling,” stated Chybar, adding that “honestly, I hope I am wrong, but we could be faced with quite a few jobs being lost if something is not done soon, especially here in Westmoreland, where we lost so much during the curfew hours.”

Chyber was referring to nightly early curfew hours implemented by the Government as a means of curtailing the spread of the coronavirus in the parish during the Yuletide season.

“When we checked around with businesses, the general feeling is that it was bad already, the extended curfew made it worse and now the year has started out pretty slow. So, without a doubt, any kind of assistance that can be given to keep us afloat so that we don't have to lay off anyone and also to help us to recover would be appreciated,” Chybar argued.

During the press conference, Silvera also referred to a letter she received from a member who expressed that the cruise ship business has become non-existent and visitors travelling to the island for vacation have almost disappeared. Silvera said while the chamber was grateful for the local support, cash flow has all but dried up and the health of our citizens, especially seniors, continues to be of concern.

President of the Negril Chamber of Commerce, Richard Wallace, yesterday reiterated a call he made last month for assistance to the business sector.

“We need assistance, especially in Negril because Negril has no other industry except tourism. So, we are feeling it even more than other big cities like Montego Bay that has other industries over there,” Wallace stressed, as he called for financial institutions and the Government to consider providing low interest rate loans to the businesses.

“We are not necessarily asking for free money. What we would like is if the Government could arrange some kind of low interest or zero interest rate loans for working capital so that we can pay our monthly bills to keep our businesses open until we start making money again. We will pay it back,” he stressed.

He noted that the money would assist hoteliers and other businesses who “have bills to pay, but yet no business to keep afloat for the next six to 12 months.”