PREMIER’S WEEKLY BRIEFING

August 11, 2020

 

Ladies and Gentlemen

Expressions of Sympathy

New Measures as of Monday, 10 August 2020

Yesterday, 10 August 2020, new restricting measures have begun to slow and contain the spread of COVID-19.

  • Curfews have been imposed on Providenciales, Parrot Cay and North Caicos.
  • Inter-island travel has been restricted and the regulations as per usual sets out and defines what is essential services.
  • Numbers in gatherings are restricted

These measures as you are aware will last until the end of the month, just before which we would have a further review.

We ask that you adhere to these laws and follow the protocols.

Today’s COVID-19 Update

As of Tuesday, 11 August, 8 new cases have been reported, this now brings the total COVID-19 cases to 224 and 2 patients remain hospitalized.

This latest surge in cases are concerning but I wish to advise that 47 of these cases relate to a work place cluster in Providenciales. I wish to also caution us that ongoing contact tracing of persons related to the work place clusters may continue to yield even more additional cases.

This cluster is likely the cause in the shift to the higher proportion of men being affected. And again I wish to advise that younger persons are being affected more and more. I am therefore appealing to the youth to be responsible in how they conduct themselves with the emphasis on wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing and avoiding congregating.

The status remains the same as to the islands impacted with three islands continuing to be affected. However, this is no time for complacency or reckless behaviour and so I implore the whole population to remain vigilant.

Health reports that symptomatic persons are still being identified through contact tracing and we encourage you to call the hotlines if you are symptomatic. Please do not go to work and socialize if you are experiencing symptoms. Please do not go to health care settings. Call 232 9444 or 333 0911.

We are at a critical place which requires an urgent shift and over the next few days will monitor closely and determine our next steps.

The Economy

Even as we experience this challenge, your government is continuing on a path of rebirth and revival in these times of unprecedented challenges.

Indeed these are very early days, and no doubt there are many challenges ahead, even as the demands and the realities continue to shift amidst this unprecedented global pandemic.

Developing strategies and policies that will steady our feet and then reconstruct a foundation for future growth are the key things in this immediate period.

And your government has set about doing that.

Almost every major sector will need special attention immediately, especially given the prediction that international tourism would not be back to its full potential for a minimum of three years.

With earnings down, and with a lot of families falling on difficult times as a consequence, your government has been committed from the very onset to providing an assortment of stimuli packages that are meant to keep people and industries’; heads above water in the short term.

Stimulus Update

As of 8th August 2020, the Turks and Caicos Islands Government has been able to process a total of 1,144 MSME and Self-Employed Stimulus grant applications.

For all businesses that are not in receipt of their approved MSME or self-employed stimulus grant, applicants are advised to contact their island TCIG Treasury for cheque payment.

The Business Stimulus grant review process continues to be significantly slowed down by the unresponsiveness of applicants to email requests for additional information. Many applicants have not responded to the email sent and the status of their applications remain “under review”.

In an effort to remedy this issue, the Compliance team has been contacting applicants via direct email and telephone. However, applicants are asked to routinely check the email address provided on application for email notifications from noreply@gov.tc.

Business Stimulus applicants can submit all queries or concerns regarding their application or the application process to email tradetci@gov.tc.

As of Friday, August 10, 2020 there were 6,755 approvals under the Employee Stimulus Cash Grant Programme. Of that, over 6,300 has been uploaded to bank accounts or disbursed by cheques.

This is good news –as it means on every island and in every community, there are people who have already felt the direct effects of this program,me.

There are 422 applications in the Compliance Folder. Compliance–in-Progress (222) and Compliance Declined-In Progress (200).

Compliance officers continue to progress the completion of this folder. But they have found that clearing it has been very onerous. As seemingly persons opened the emails solely to apply for the stimulus cash grants and have now forgotten email addresses, passwords or both. Efforts to contact many of these persons individually by phone have also been futile; but for some of them that were reached, their applications were processed to payment.

Noteworthy strides have been made in reducing the amount of applications that had neither National Insurance Board contributions, nor pay slips. Emails went out to the remaining 150 persons without pay slips, in the last week of July. However, there has been a sluggish response.

Until now, approximately one-third of those applicants have provided the information. The remaining persons are being asked to submit valid pay slips as soon as possible. If a response is not received by Wednesday, 19 August 2020, the assessing team will be left to assume that outstanding applicants cannot verify employment with the stated companies.

There has been very little movement on the 400 or so applications that have been extracted from the Final Declined Folder. Alternative protocols are being worked out to address the challenges with processing these applications.

It was expected that the majority of applications would be cleared by at least the end of July, 2020. Though we are now in August, the government intends to pay a grant to all of those persons who submitted within the deadlines and meet the eligibility criteria.

I will over the next few weeks announce further support for families in TCI.

Diversification of Economy Efforts Continue

Even as we deal with the issue of stimulus money to the various sectors, we are moving full speed ahead in planning this rebirth and revival that I mentioned early. And while naturally, the government will lead on these matters as the executive, it is our intention to involve every sector of the economy and of national life.

Indeed in the coming weeks widespread consultations will be conducted with the people of those matters.

Given the COVID challenges, the methods and means of those consultations will have to be adapted for obvious reasons.

But through technology, and through virtual means, we will seek and garner your input at every stage.

We will provide the leadership – but we will listen; we will learn; and we will act.

It is in that context that recently I announced in Parliament the establishment of a broad based National Economic Council, which is a consultative body with representatives from all sectors of the economy, which will also meet among themselves – and come up with plans and suggestions for policy directions to the national executive. We will fully launch that Council within a few weeks – at which time the full names of the members will be released.

Letters of invitation to participate in that Council are being sent out this week – and we are very hopeful, and equally excited at the prospect of the work of that team.

This period of challenges also calls on all of us to be nimble in the way we manage national economic life.

Your government is very sensitive to the need to be able to quickly respond to every emerging challenge.

As we have indicated on numerous occasions throughout the term of this government – but particularly in the recent months – the need for a diversification of the economy is urgent.

Our plans to expand into the international financial services sector are well advanced and being reviewed. That is one of the areas the National Economic Council is expected to give direction on but certainly our efforts already ongoing will continue. I am pleased that as early as 2018, we were able to fund and secure a comprehensive review of the Financial Services Sector and to have consultations concluded with key stakeholders. Since then a working group was appointed by me and the recommendations have been brought to Cabinet and approved and funding for the recruitment of a financial services point person and marketing has been lodged with Invest TC. We are also now moving forward with the marketing of the industry together with private sector support. These are the times to fast track and consolidate our gains with such an early focus on diversification through financial services.

We believe that this is a sector of potential high growth; and an industry that can be built in quick time to help maintain our way of life, even while we wait for the key sector for tourism to rebound.

Commercializing further the exploitation of our marine resources; investing in the agriculture sector and in small manufacturing are key areas for bolstering.

Your government has already allocated monies to help small farmers and to encourage further investment in agriculture.

It is small businesses that will stabilise and revitalize our economy life, and we are cognizant that through existing programs through Invest TC, but also through other more nimble government instruments that we propose to set up, we want to make it easier for people with workable small business ideas to assess to working capital.

It is our view that there must be a more active policy that will invoke the entrepreneurial spirit of our people.

We have every confidence in the ingenuity of our people.

Our mantra is investing in opportunities, and investment in hope – and we do that by the government being the main facilitator for your individual yearnings.

The biggest national assets have been, and will always be, you the people.

We will manifest that further in the time and effort we will put into investing in our youth.

Our Minister of Education is here with me today, and she will outline a few of the many youth-oriented initiatives that speak to this broader government philosophy and will also provide an update as to the re-opening of schools.

As we navigate these times, we want to thank all of you the people of the Turks and Caicos, for the understanding and discipline you have shown.

The spike in the recent weeks, for all indications, these latest cases once again underscored the need for everyone to honor established protocols – for we have no doubt that if we do all the things that are requested of us – including social distancing; eliminating mass gatherings and wearing a mask, we can stop the disease in its tracks.

The constant breaching of the protocols will not only just lead to more cases – but bring us to a stage where we would be forced to shut down aspects of the economy.

It is a place that none of us will want to go back to – which is an added reason for each and every one of us to be good team players.

Stiffer Penalties To Come

As a government, we note that as serious as this situation has become around the world and indeed here, there remains a flagrant disregard for the law especially among party goer. We watched with horror the recordings of parties over the weekend and the reckless behavior exhibited. After repeated appeals to us, there can only be one response and the behaviours justifies the response.

We are concerned though that a small minority continue to flout the regulations and the protocols.

Some people are still engaged in relatively large social gatherings; others are either refusing to wear masks or doing so not properly.

While it is a small minority guilty of these; their actions continue to threaten the well-being of the majority.

These actions are not only dangerous, but they are also selfish.

Now more than ever we need to be other brothers’ – and our sisters’ – keeper.

We can only beat back this pandemic challenge with a disciplined and united approach – refusing to chance anything; and refusing to take short cuts.

This is not a governmental responsibility; but it indeed a very personal one—and I want to once again appeal to everyone.

I pause to announce today that the Attorney General’s Chambers are currently drafting laws that will bring stiffer penalties and make the breach of protocols a ticketable offense. As persons/businesses cannot or do not seem to want to grasp the serious and urgent requirement set out in law to wear masks or social distance or observe other regulations, we must penalize the actions of the few for the greater good of all.

Human behaviour determines how we come through this pandemic and we are prepared to use whatever is at our disposal to achieve the best of us.

These stiffer penalties are not meant to criminalise but to encourage better behaviour. If you continue to disregard the law, you must and will be dealt with.

We know some people have raised with us the matter of the CDC issued travel advisory that was made within the last week as regards to the Turks and Caicos.

As far as we are concerned the advisory, appears to have been a routine precautionary exercise on the CDC’s part, since virtually every island and nation in this region had been issued some type of advisory

Indeed the CDC issued a slew of these advisories within the last seven days to most nations around the world, including New Zealand which has seen as one of the global success stories in the fight against the pandemic.

It is ironic, in their case, that most of the very few cases they have had were linked to overseas travel, some from the United States.

The advisory does not indicate any material worsening of the situation here in the Turks and Caicos, and the visitors to this territory know that.

We continue to accept overseas arrivals, under the strictest protocols; and we are heartened that people have shown a renewed interest in visiting the Turks and Caicos.

It’s early days but the numbers have been encouraging. And we are also pleased to report that the systems we have out in place have worked – and the health and safety of both nationals and residents, and visitors have not been compromised in any way since.

We as a people must remain vigilant, as we are confident, that our people and our economy will emerge and thrive in this new environment.

I wish to turn our attention before I conclude to another critical challenge that we as a people can not ignore.

Hurricane Season 2020 Update

Forecasters have revised their original predictions from an active hurricane season to an extremely active hurricane season. They are now expecting 24 named storms, 12 hurricanes and 5 storms of category 3 or higher. Not only are they expecting more storms but the storms seem to be developing earlier than usual. A record-setting nine named storms have been recorded so far, compared with the normal average of two. For example, the earliest J storm on record was Jose, which formed August 22, 2005.

What this means is that as a country we cannot afford to become complacent. We cannot afford to say to ourselves that given the fact that the last Tropical Storm Isaias did not caused massive destruction in the TCI that other storms will not negatively impact the TCI as well. We must prepare as if we are expecting a category 5 storm directly impacting the TCI. Nor can we say to ourselves that we do not need to prepare for tropical storms…” It is only a tropical storm!” This is the time to put measures in place to protect your business, home and family. Do not wait until the TCI is under warning to begin your preparations. Storms are unpredictable and may catch you off guard.

Lastly, I would like to remind you that tropical storms can be as deadly as a major hurricane. We do not need to look too far for examples of destruction caused by tropical storms. The Christmas trough (2013) that resulted in 15 deaths in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and St. Lucia, Tropical Storm Isaias (2020) after leaving the TCI left at least 5 dead in its path, locally tropical storm Hanna, Cristobal, Joaquin all caused massive flooding, destruction causing millions in dollars.

I would therefore like to encourage all residents to do their part by getting prepared, remaining vigilant during this very busy and potentially less predictable Atlantic Hurricane Season and being ready to take action when necessary and let us pray that God will continue to spare us the wrath of mother nature!”

God will never give us more than we can bear and there will never be a situation that He has not given wisdom and guidance to those who seek Him. In the face of these challenges, we must know that we can and must continue to be vigilant but also hopeful.

I am confident that we will be stronger for it.

May God bless us all and may He continue to bless these Turks and Caicos Islands.