SAINT Lucia’s Economic Recovery and Resilience Plan (ERRP) played a critical role in implementing measures geared to stimulate the economy as the island ‘dug deep’ to stay afloat in light of COVID-19.
While presenting the Appropriation Bill, this week, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet explained that three Recovery pillars and three Resilience pillars were utilized to strategise the ERRP program.
The program covered 32 interventions under the ERRP to sustain those recovery strategies.
He outlined a list of interventions that were undertaken to help cushion the resultant ‘economic shocks’ posed by COVID-19.
The prime minister explained that provisions was made under the blended (loan/grant) support to Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises with a focus on food security and adoption of digital technologies, as well as the inclusion of the Working Capital Injection Program.
He informed that through the Saint Lucia Development Bank (SLDB) more than 100 businesses have accessed this facility, at a cost of $2.5 million.
Disbursements of $1.26 million have been made for the repurposing of blended funding from the Climate Adaptation Fund, which is now being finalized.
These initiatives will cover various areas that includes; Micro-Finance loans to households to diversify into Small and Micro Enterprise and cottage industries.
In addition, said Chastanet, ongoing discussions and negotiations are held with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to provide credit to such households, particularly those who have been displaced from the tourism sector.
On Implementation of the Electricity Assistance Program for persons adversely affected by COVID-19, he said, through collaboration with LUCELEC over 3,000 households have benefitted so far, from subsidies towards their electricity bills of $75 a month.
With focus on the implementation of shovel ready projects, the prime minister stated that “we have been able to move ahead with the implementation of several capital investment projects even in the midst of the pandemic.”
He added: “Significant strides have been made with projects such as the St Jude Hospital, the Respiratory Hospital, the lane expansion in Rodney Bay and other select road projects across the island.”
PM Chastanet said these initiatives have generated direct employment for more than 1,500 persons, and in addition, supports employment generated for ancillary services and the revenue that enables supply companies to retain their employees.
He disclosed that Saint Lucia’s Public Assistance Programme (PAP) has been expanded by 1,000 households (from 2,600 to 3,600). Also, due to the PAP expansion across the board, the child disability grant, children in foster care grant and persons living with HIV, transfers have all been augmented.
The transportation sector also came under review, with mechanisms in place for the waiver of duties for the purchase of vehicles for both Taxi Operators and Minibus Operators for a two–year period; as well as, the waiver of route-permit license renewal fees for Minibus Operators and Permit Holders.
With emphasis on the Acceleration of reforms at the Development Control Authority (DCA) to unlock both public and private sector investment projects and improve service delivery, the prime minister reported that though applications and approvals for 2020 decreased by 12 percent and 13 percent respectively compared to 2019, the DCA granted a total of 1,034 approvals for the year 2020.
He also cited the Provision of Duty Free Concessions on vehicles to essential service public sector workers.
Said Chastanet: “Without a doubt our frontline workers have gone above and beyond the call of duty during this pandemic. To date, hundreds of frontline workers have taken advantage of the concession, with 275 approved and the others in process.”
There was also the provision of waiver of duties on personal hygiene products to the general populace, as well as COVID-19 Hygiene Care Packages to indigent, poor and vulnerable households.
“Both measures were taken to curtail the spread of the virus and provide support to our citizens in these trying times,” the prime minster added.
Citing the need to inculcate resilience strategies – in an effort to build competitiveness through Digital Transformation and adoption, he said that in the midst of the pandemic the government launched its Digital Integrated Government e-Service (DigiGov) platform, designed to provide a central online gateway to government information and services.
“We are committed to a citizen-centric approach to our engagement with the public and this became even more relevant with the advent of COVID19,” said Chastanet.
He explained that the Security Interest in Movable Properties and Insolvency Bills would help in fast tracking legislation in the business environment for increasing access to finance for Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises.
The prime minister added, “This will provide businesses with the opportunity to access financing using business movable assets such as equipment, receivables and inventory.”
He said the initiative also intends to provide support for business continuity through the introduction of the online Productivity Tool, where businesses will be able to measure productivity levels by using qualitative and quantitative indicators that are based on international best practices.
The commencement of the Human Capital Resilience Project and the Generation of Employment through Private Sector Development Project, among others, will create the enabling environment for the enhancement of skills training offerings and re-skilling in some instances, by utilizing TVET systems to create employment opportunities for the unemployed and displaced workers.
In addition, Chastanet said, the authorities will ‘rollout’ a number of other programs in this financial year.
The programs earmarked for implementation will include;
• The incentivizing of the commercial banking sector to lend to Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises;
• The waiver of commercial property tax to landlords who extended moratorium or rent reductions to their tenants;
• The exemptions from tax for Severance and Redundancy Pay; and
• The Employee Retention Programme which grants tax relief to qualifying businesses.