As COVID-19 measures continue to weaken global economies, Caribbean governments are being urged to join with stakeholders to carve out a comprehensive plan to deal with this crisis.
At an International Development Bank webinar on the topic, ‘How can the Caribbean private sector survive the coronavirus’, panellists Allison Peart of Peart Advisory Services of Jamaica, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace of Bedford Baker Group of Bahamas and Zulfikat Ally of the American Chamber of Commerce of Guyana agreed that one of the lasting effects of COVID-19 will be a new way of conducting business.
“I don’t think we will be able to go back to what we are accustomed to, especially in Guyana,” said Ally. He said businesses now have to adapt to technological change to survive, remain open and relevant. Businesses like supermarkets and restaurants, he noted, are now taking orders via social media and making deliveries and arranging pick-ups.
“That will be the new normal that we are entering to,” he said.
He added, “Businesses that cannot adapt are doing terribly.” Anticipating that there will be negative growth in several countries in the region, Ally said Guyana had expected a 86 per cent growth with the gas reserves, but that estimation has now been slashed by half. With the travel restrictions, he said tourists will not be returning to the Caribbean until COVID-19 is under control and that may not be anything time soon.
“It will not be business as usual within the next year or two,” he said. Noting that 80 per cent of the gross domestic product in the Caribbean is derived from tourism, Vanderpool-Wallace said economy diversification is very difficult to do. He said governments should be looking at ways to encourage tourists to return to the Caribbean at some point in time.
“We need to figure out a way to create COVID free corridors and COVID free communities,” said Vanderppol-Wallace. He said they are already consulting with world-renowned institutions and CARPHA about this plan.
Emphasizing, however, that this has to be done on a regional level, he said, all stakeholders must come on board.
“Everyone has to be in on the conversation to turn the economy in some semblance of normality,” he added. The panellists also suggested that governments should consider encouraging inter-region tourism by making it more attractive and affordable.
For this to work, however, Peart said all governments need to work in unity.
“We compete too much as Caribbean countries,” she said.
Peart added governments also have to make Wifi available to everyone and move towards online services to pay taxes, bills and so forth. Noting that people in Jamaica have been trying to adapt, she said, for instance, people who delivered mail are now delivering groceries and those in the alcohol business are using the product for cleaning purposes.
With a significant less revenue coming in, Ally said governments have to find incentives and ways to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to invest.
Suggesting offering waivers and low-interest rates, he said, “Government will have to be innovative and will need the support of financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF.”
Reporter: Sascha Wilson