National Address by Dr. the Right Honourable Keith Mitchell
Prime Minister, Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique
Fellow citizens, the pandemic, Covid-19 has resulted in a global crisis that is unlike any we have seen in our lifetime.
Over 250,000 people worldwide, have so far contracted Covid-19.
We are thankful thus far, that no case of the virus has yet been confirmed here in the tri-island State of Grenada. Nevertheless, we know it is only a matter of time, given the introduction of the virus in our region, and its rapid spread around the world. We must, therefore, continue with aggressive measures, designed to lessen the impact, when the virus does hit our shores.
The Ministry of Health continues to lead from the front in this regard, and we are forever grateful to the leadership, and the men and women on the frontlines, who selflessly stand ready to execute their duties. I also want to specially recognise and commend the National Strategic Committee on Covid-19 which continues to meet daily to strategise and coordinate efforts at the national level.
Our government has taken a very aggressive, proactive approach in the fight against Covid-19. By now, you would have seen or received many informational public service announcements, posters, text messages, television and radio commercials, and hundreds of social media posts from the government, encouraging, among other things, proper hygiene, and providing regular updates on government’s efforts to protect Grenada from the contracting and spread of Covid-19.
Last week we began to practise what’s termed as “social distancing”, and moving into this week, you would have seen constant updates on travel advisories, with restrictions for high-risk areas such as the United Kingdom and the United States. We are also currently moving to close our seaports for yachts and leisure boats, in the immediate period.
Screening of passengers allowed to enter Grenada has been aggressive and sustained, at our ports of entry. In these coming days and weeks, you will continue to see heightened measures related to self-quarantine; and when the virus is officially confirmed here on island – total isolation of confirmed cases.
Sisters and brothers, we have carefully studied the lessons learned from China and other countries hardest hit by this virus. We have twinned those lessons with scientific data from the experts, which support our approach in fighting Covid-19.
Scientific data shows that countries that have been best at managing the outbreak and spread of Covid-19, have done so through a combination of testing, contact tracing, public awareness campaigns and a commitment to abide by quarantines and social distancing protocols. Border protection measures have also proven to be invaluable in this fight.
I am grateful to our friends and partners, who understand that, as a country — and more so, as a small island, we have no choice but to do all we can to safeguard our shores.
I also thank the people of Grenada for doing what we as Grenadians do — come together in a time of need. I realise it has been challenging to make the many sacrifices and adjustments that we have had to make over the past several weeks; but by and large, we all understand the necessity of such timely and comprehensive measures.
Our progress to date, and our continued progress, will depend on our collective commitment to keeping Grenadians healthy, for we are all in this together. Even with all this, the global crisis that is Covid-19 also comes at a tremendous financial and economic cost for citizens, the business community and government alike.
We understand the anxiety for individuals, families and communities. As a government, even while we explore various avenues to ease the anxiety of citizens, and while we anticipate that the private sector will meet payroll obligations at the end of this month, we must push forward with some preliminary concrete measures that are designed, in the interim, to infuse some form of positive financial and mental impact on workers, businesses, and our socially vulnerable.
To that end, for the next 3 months, April through June 2020 in the first instance, the Government of Grenada will take the following actions:
- Work tirelessly to avoid staff layoffs and the loss of livelihood in the tourism sector by providing $20 million worth of payroll support to the hoteliers, restaurants, bars, small travel agents, and income support to public buses, taxi drivers, tourist vendors, and other such identified hospitality-based businesses
- Adjust the small hoteliers’ facility at Grenada Development Bank to support all hoteliers by injecting an additional $7 million to this facility
- Work with the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to provide unemployment benefits support due to the fallout of this pandemic initially estimated at $10 million
- Suspend the 2% increase in NIS payments for the period
- Encourage the trade union movement to work with the business community to support the use of vacation leave as a first option in the event of the businesses having to resort to skeleton staff
- Expand the public sector investment programmes in an effort to boost employment at the community level
- Suspend the monthly advance payment on Corporate Income Tax for the period
- Suspend the instalment payments on the Annual Stamp Tax for the period
- Expand the small business soft lending facility at the Grenada Development Bank by an additional $5 million
- Place on the price control list certain cleaning items to prevent price gouging at this time. This will include but is not limited to hand sanitisers, bleach, hydrogen peroxide and hand soap
- Follow all necessary exemption protocols to provide incentives to private labs and medical facilities procuring items to support the fight against Covid-19
- Increase farm labour support to immediately boost agricultural production islandwide. Government is also giving consideration to the support for farmers and fish exporters who have recently been affected as a result of international travel restrictions
Additionally, now that the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes Tribunal has delivered its ruling in the arbitration between the Government of Grenada and WRB, Government commits to ensuring that the cost of electricity will be reduced by 30% for the months of March, April and May in the first instance, to all consumers. This will not apply to a few companies that have special concessionary arrangements. While it will not be reflected on the bill in the immediate period, future billing cycles will highlight this reduction as the administrative process is finalised.
Our financial institutions have also agreed, in principle, to provide a moratorium on principal and interest payments to their clients on condition, for the 3-month period in question, in the first instance.
Friends, the measures outlined are intended to be preliminary, as we continue to work toward longer-term actions, as this crisis unfolds.
We are encouraged by the spirit of cooperation that existed among us, only a handful of years ago, when we went through our Home Grown Structural Adjustment Programme.
Broad-based consultations and support, as we are seeing now, from all stakeholders, including, the business community, trade union movement, churches, non-governmental organisations and civil society, enabled us to achieve a feat between 2013 and 2016, the likes of which we had not seen in our country. A non-existent 2013 economy grew steadily by an average 5% during and after the Structural Adjustment Programme and was set to maintain that pace again this year, prior to this pandemic.
It is that same spirit of cooperation, unity, and resilience that we rely on now, to see us through the current health crisis, which has significant economic and social impact.
As a government, we are grateful for the sacrifices and support of our social partners and citizens over the years. It is because of those sacrifices that we have a small cushion now, that, with support from the international community, can see us through several of the lean months ahead; as we brace ourselves and fortify our country to weather this crisis.
We continue to work with our friends and partners, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and other institutions and friendly governments, to pursue any and all avenues that will provide us some measure of stability. We are grateful for their continued support.
Friends, the word “global” has never had more meaning than it does today. We are all currently facing the same crisis and very similar challenges, and no one can afford to be myopic or bigoted in this fight. We have no choice but to work together, and that includes with the rest of the world and with each other, here at home.
We are, for better or worse, our brothers’ keeper through this crisis and we must demonstrate that at every turn, beginning with the simple act of washing our hands frequently with soap and water.
Let me use this opportunity to commend all stakeholders and the general public for the support provided to the Government of Grenada in enforcing, promoting, crafting and adhering to the guidelines provided to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Continue to do your part, and the government will continue to work tirelessly to do its part — and more — to create an enabling environment in which we can still live, learn, work and play when this is all over.
May God continue to lead and guide us in these challenging times, as we continue to rely on his wisdom, strength and protection. Stay tuned for more updates from us in the days and weeks ahead.
I thank you.