Mar 23, 2020 News
By Kemol King
It is important for government to assist the business community and the citizenry as Guyana battles the Coronavirus pandemic that has swept across the planet.
Championing this cause is president of Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), Nicholas Deygoo-Boyer.
In an interview with Kaieteur News, he said that the City Chamber has commenced discussions with regional chambers to determine the most productive measures which could help businesses cope with the fallout from the presence of the virus in Guyana. The Private Sector Commission (PSC) is also gearing up to get involved in the response, he added.
With five cases already identified, and one death, Guyana is vastly underprepared to provide the healthcare response needed to battle this virus. Getting an abundance of testing kits and other necessary materials is a challenge for Guyana. While more developed countries may more readily test persons, even if they are asymptomatic, Guyana delegates those resources only to persons who are symptomatic.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has identified Guyana as one of the countries least prepared to tackle the virus, and is likely to point out where aid should be focused. Yet, countries with more resilient healthcare sectors have already taken a beating.
Persons are advised to practice social distancing, and could be placed under quarantine once they begin to display symptoms. He noted that, to maintain these safety precautions, persons would have to stay at home and work a lot less.
The effect this could have on business would be harsh, Deygoo-Boyer told Kaieteur News.
The Chamber president noted that some businesses have already taken the initiative to provide certain materials to prevent employees and citizens being infected.
However, he said that a “patchwork” effort is not enough; that the effort must be multisectoral and comprehensive. Hence, the need presents itself for all businesses to get involved.
He is urging businesses, in their efforts to safeguard their sustainability, to ensure that they consider workers’ livelihoods, and not to fire them indiscriminately. One suggestion from the Chamber president is a reduction of employment hours from the 40-hour per week cycle, within the remit of the labour laws.
He recognises, however, that the laying off of workers is not entirely avoidable. Hence, Deygoo-Boyer said that some form of unemployment insurance benefit should be considered.
This would be government’s remit. He said that the Chamber has already been invited to join a government task force to prepare a response to the arrival of the virus in Guyana.
The Chamber has already decided on a series of propositions for relief from the State. These are intended to allow businesses to function sustainably while there is reduced cash flow caused by the societal breakdown.
One such is the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) from materials needed to prevent the spread of the virus. Deygoo-Boyer said that other propositions include moving statutory tax deadlines and amnesty for late payments.
So far, the Chamber’s discussions with the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) have shown the Commissioner General, Godfrey Statia to be amenable to the City Chamber’s suggestions, the president said.
Kaieteur News contacted Statia yesterday to find out whether any reliefs are currently being contemplated by the Authority.
Statia said that, while it is for the government to grant reliefs, GRA can extend due dates and waive penalties and interest. He said that numerous measures have been proposed and are under active contemplation for relief, inclusive of tax waivers and extensions.
GRA is also reportedly in discussions with the Commissioner of Police through Traffic Chief, Linden Isles to waive the current deadline for renewals of vehicle licences.
Further, Deygoo-Boyer pointed to the need for more discourse, not just with GRA but other organisations to determine the best way forward. This, the Chamber intends to pursue.
The Chamber president noted that the Bank of Guyana has asked banks to make certain considerations for customers. These include a reduction of interest rates, deference of loan payments and a waiver of automated teller machine (ATM) fees.
He said that the Chamber, nevertheless, will be reaching out to the Bank of Guyana and the Guyana Association of Bankers.
The suggestions posed by the Chamber president, he said, are not exhaustive. The Chamber is in active discourse.
THE WORLD AT LARGE
CNN published yesterday that more than 325,000 people have contracted the novel coronavirus and at least 14,380 have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The publication said that, as businesses down tools and send workers home, there is a threat of a severe economic downturn.
Many countries have already closed their borders, including Guyana.
Spain has nationalised all of its private hospitals. Italy, one of the hardest hit countries, has closed all non-essential businesses. It has also severely restricted movement in the country, even asking joggers to limit their laps around the block, The Guardian said.
In the US, Congresswoman Maxine Waters is proposing a Bill to give out cash allowances, suspend mortgages, student loans, credit card and loan payments.
The UK government’s advisors tell it that the citizens may need to practice social distancing for more than twelve months to prevent the outbreak from overwhelming their intensive care units.
Guyana’s healthcare system, much less comprehensive, may need its citizens to practice social distancing for a similar period, or longer.
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