Since the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic, Prime Minister Dean Barrow addressed the nation on the economic downturn that Belize would experience due to this global situation. One of the things he had committed to was to give financial aid to employees in the tourism industry that would inevitably become unemployed. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition had appointed Dr. Carla Barnett and Chris Coye to assess the impacts and how they would be able to assist persons in need. In this evening’s press conference, Dr. Carla Barnett spoke on who would be the beneficiaries.
Dr.Carla Barnett: “It is not only the tourism sector it is the allied sectors, everybody that contributes to tourism and that’s a really large sector of the economy that we’re talking about. The information that we have suggests that we’re talking about upwards of 80% of the employees in the hotel sector that are losing their jobs that’s 80% of about 14,000 people, all of the tour guides that’s about 100% of about 2,800 between 2,500 to 3,000 people, we’ve also had significant job losses at the borders in the free zones as a result of the shut down. We’ve had significant impact on the productive sector, those people the farmers who provide to the hotel and restaurants that serve the tourism visitors and so the impact is going to be quite large. There isn’t a fixed number, we can tell you right now that it looks to us as if the impact on the tourism sector alone we’re talking about a 45% or so reduction in cruise arrivals and about the same reduction in overnight tourism arrivals concentrated in this period. What that means is that immediately it’s the job loss yes but it’s also the revenue loss, it’s the revenue loss to government, it’s the revenue loss to the other institutions that depend on the sector for direct income we’re talking about BTB, we’re talking about PACT, we’re talking about NICH that draw the majority of their income directly from the tourism sector so it’s a large impact that we’re talking about.”
According to Dr. Barnett, the average weekly assistance would amount to one hundred and fifty dollars weekly.
Carla Barnett: Chris and I have come up with a series of recommendations that are intended to ensure that the system is fair, that the system is equitable, that those who need to benefit from it can have quick, easy, convenient access, that those who ought not to benefit cannot get what they’re not to get out of it and therefore what we’re seeking to do at this stage it looks like it will be a $150 every two weeks, it’s not a lot of money we cannot replace people’s incomes but we can help to relieve the stress in terms of meeting basic necessities so it looks like that will be the final number that we hit upon. How will people get access to this ? First of all, while we have prioritized tourism, tourism in our economy is broad based because we have what we call the allied sectors that are alive because of tourism so we include all of that. We’re talking about tour operators, hotels and resorts, transportation providers that provide to the tourism sector, we’re talking about visitor entertainment destinations, arts and craft stores, other suppliers to the tourism sector and we can add others as we go along. The kind of jobs, the kind of employees that we’re talking about we’re talking about tour guides, office staff, cleaners, janitors, room attendants, we’re talking about kitchen staff, store clerks even mechanics people who work on the buses that take the tourists around, independent operators such as the freelance tour guides, vendors, hair braiders; we’re talking about taxi operators so we’re trying to cover and account for the people who work as a result of – who have lost their work in the tourism sector and the allied sectors because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And how is this going to work? We are going to be – we have already made contact, established a good working relationship with the Belize Tourism Board and with the Social Security Board and between the two institutions we are going to be in a position to verify in very short time certainly less than a day whenever somebody applies to say ”I have lost my job because I have been laid off from one of these tourism related or other sectors”, we’ll be able to verify very quickly using social security numbers, if it’s a tour guide the tour guide numbers immediately that that person qualifies and that information will go form us meaning the secretariat that’s being set up, directly to the Social Security Board. The Social Security Board is going to be the paying agent, it won’t be paid by a department of government it will be paid strictly from the Social Security Board through the funds that will then be sent to Social Security Board for that purpose.
Initially, it was said that only those that are unemployed due to the Covid pandemic would benefit from the monies. According to the Prime Minister, this has changed to include the not-so-recently employed.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “Initially I had thought that the recently unemployed would take priority but we expanded that and now the idea is to try to cover all so you will be satisfied to the extent that we are able to on a first come first serve basis. Am I not making it clear or ?”
Reporter: No, no it’s clear.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “Well if you look shocked because you are astonished to see that we’re perhaps biting off more than we can chew that’s a natural and I would think very much warranted reaction but as Chris said we’ve got to do it and it does mean that if the unemployed pool that we must service now were smaller we could perhaps afford to give more than the $150 every two weeks but we need to try to assist each and every single person that we can and so that is the job we have assumed and we’re determined to be successful. As I said when the $75 million is used up by that time we should have had the kitty replenished by the inflows from the IFIs and the other multilateral international sources.”
Unemployed persons will soon be able to access an application online to capitalize on financial aid.