Expressions of Thanks, Appreciation and Recognition
Thank you so much for what you have been doing to achieve what we have as a country. We are in our 5th week of curfew and remain grateful for those who understand the importance and have embraced the importance of what we are doing.
I must say thank you to the law enforcement team policing the curfew and which includes Police, Immigration, Customs, DECR and Road Safety Officers. We are grateful to you, the men and women who are serving on the frontline in this way.
We pause to celebrate our health care workers and support teams. You are indeed superstars, and we are grateful for your service.
We must always likewise celebrate all our essential staff workers who continue to serve in this time and which extends beyond law enforcement and medical personnel. We salute you and all the work and services that you are carrying out in this time.
This period has taught us so many valuable lessons: the fragility of life, the true meaning of being our brothers and sisters keepers and the real benefits of working together with a singleness of mind and purpose and all the gains we can attain as a result, but it also teaches us to appreciate the work of many that society really cannot do without.
May God bless, guide and protect each and every one of you as you serve.
During this pandemic, we have relied so heavily on our health experts who use a science that continues to change in many respects to advise us. We salute these persons and this week, I must single out a little known department led by our very own Dr Shandy, called NERU who is working behind the scenes in analysing and studying the numbers that we see each day and it is this expert advice that continues to assist in guiding us. It is the Ministry and by extension, the Government’s aim to clearly communicate as much as we can and I remain grateful for those who continue to share ideas on how we can improve the dashboard so that the messages are clear. I know that many of you welcome the change in the dashboard that now shows active cases which is a critical condition given the recoveries that we are now seeing. It is important to re-emphasise the message of Team Health in that; a person is deemed recovered only after two negative test results. I also want to remind us all that sicknesses never discriminate and neither should we. We have received requests to release names and even areas of victims. For the time being, it has been decided against, in the best interest of the victims; and while we understand the request, we must encourage us all to take care and follow good hygienic practices, shelter in place until otherwise advised and please note that if you are revealed in any contact tracing exercise, the small and dedicated team at the Ministry of Health will advise you.
Change in Dashboard
While today’s numbers are encouraging, we are happy to see this but recognise as well that the virus is in country and we must be prepared to face the fight head-on, and every decision we take will determine how we do battle.
During the curfew, the MOH and the Government identified key investments and policies that had to be made. It allowed us to slow down as it were, the spread of the virus but in a contained way. We all agree that we cannot stay in a container forever and careful consideration is underway and over the next days, as to how we move forward.
On Thursday, April 30th, HE The Governor and I will address you on the way forward and what you can expect post May 4th.
Ahead of this, I wish to say, share and pull together critical information for you to appreciate how your sacrifice over the past weeks has ensured gains for us while we seek to preserve our lives.
I am delighted that we are in receipt of our first PCR Equipment which has been in the country for the past week and which is an important part of our National Strategy. The Hon Minister of Health and his Team have repeatedly stated that in country testing must be central to any strategy as this will allow us to increase testing of residents beyond the WHO definition and in country. We remain grateful to the Bahamas and CARPHA in what remains a true regional partnership. They continue to conduct testing for TCI, and we are greatly appreciative. TCI continues to enjoy valuable partnerships with benefit to our people’s. We must thank the people of Jamaica for their support in our Treatment Abroad Program despite the recent unfortunate situation that made headlines. Our region has been a great family support when it matters, and we likewise have also been able to lend support.
But we are delighted with this in country capability and await the start date as will be announced by the Ministry of Health very soon.
We are also delighted that another PCR Equipment is in route and was procured by Public Health England, and this will increase our testing capability. This second equipment builds redundancy and increases our capability to test more.
Other Critical Needs Addressed
It is important to note as well that apart from the in country testing capability, the MOH has also been working on our hospital capacity and while we work towards maintaining low numbers, we expect that wider testing will yield higher results and we must be able to address care. More will be shared on Thursday regarding our increase in testing capability, investment in hospital capacity, procurement of critical equipment and supplies and medical personnel. Many of you have inquired whether we are seeking assistance from Cuba in terms of medical uplift, and I am pleased to announce that we have secured a contingent of medical personnel from Cuba. These critical achievements strengthen our fight against COVID-19.
These key areas required time to resolve given the suddenness of the impact but also the high demand throughout the region and the world. More will be forthcoming on all of these critical strands in time.
I must thank the UK Government as well for the support given through the provision of military assistance. This Team is spread across critical areas and continues to provide support for Health and Maritime. Their support is welcomed at this time, and we have seen that even as we face this challenge of COVID-19 we were thwarted with the arrival of sloops during the curfew. We cannot continue to be exposed in this way during these trying times, and I am pleased to announce that the UK is providing further UK Defence support to the Turks and Caicos Islands to assist our counter-illegal immigration
· With my support and the support of the TCI Government, and on the advice of the Governor and the planners in Security Assistance Team who are already with us, the UK is now deploying additional military support to TCI.
· On 29 April, a chartered commercial flight carrying around 30 Royal Marines is expected to land in TCI. These Royal Marines will fortify the 20 members of the UK Security Assistance Team who emerged from quarantine on 20 April. All the new arrivals will immediately enter quarantine for 14 days.
· Those 30 new arrivals will focus on supporting the Maritime Branch of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Service on counter-illegal immigration operations. The TCI Government and the UK Government see this as an essential partnership to prevent new transmissions of the coronavirus.
We are grateful for this, and we must realise that this is not a normal assignment or the usual approach by the Military, and we believe that these times call for unusual approaches.
Many of you have speculated today that I will announce an extension and I have had many messages supporting either way. What I will say is that much work has been ongoing over the past weeks to ensure that we are in a better place after this period and to ensure that critical steps were taken before considering a lift of the curfew. I will also say that Cabinet has met to review our position and will meet again tomorrow to further discussions around our national plan and again on Thursday, April 30th after which the Governor and I will update the country on our National Approach post May 4th. We will not risk losing the country’s gains achieved by your/our sacrifices to shelter in place and as such I can say that we will not open as we closed; that is with a big bang but are already resolved in our minds that a phased and guarded approach is not only prudent but a must.
Governor, Emergency Powers and Local Government
I must commend our Governor for his approach to governance and his valued partnership. We are indeed grateful for this, and even as we invoke emergency powers to properly address this pandemic, local Government is very much alive ; HE the Governor has taken decisions in Cabinet. I will in another address, explain further the gains under Emergency Powers.
I turn our attention to the recently passed Budget.
Over the past years, it became customary for me to address this country in a press conference following the passage of the National Budget. Today I wish to seize this opportunity to provide highlights of the Appropriation Bill recently passed and on the important and successful work of the House of Assembly over the past week. And I do so again against the backdrop that it is extremely difficult to forecast in these circumstances, but I also wish to assure us that there is a strategy as I have outlined several times already, to funding our monthly obligations, the critical programmes and projects in this Budget and the unforeseen challenges particularly in the area of health.
This year we tabled the largest expenditure envelope in the last decade totalling $337m which includes the cash grants under the Stimulus Programme and the $35.2m capital expenditure. We are projecting a huge shortfall in revenues and as such, laid a deficit Budget. The short fall at this time is calculated at approximately $73m.
Key areas and announcements included in this Budget are as follows:
- Increased investment in border protection and security. Of the 160 new posts, 68 are in border protection and security alone with a further 39 in manpower uplift for the Police;
- Another boat, drones and a new fleet of vehicles for the islands outside of Providenciales;
- Increased manpower at the Radar Station and critical radar upgrades to increase the rate of success for intervention;
- Increased manpower in immigration and the Prison;
- Funding for the required consultancy to redevelop the Prison;
- Critical manpower for DECR, a boat and drones;
- The funding for a National Security Secretariat who will focus on the threats identified in the National Security Strategy and also progressing works to set up our very own Contingency Force/Defense Force.
- Investment in Hurricane Preparedness: through manpower for DDME and the securing of equipment to enhance communication and other equipment to prepare and respond.
- Funding for the new Trade School works and staffing, for the required consultancy to build a TCICC Provo Campus and for the purchase of a Special Needs School for Grand Turk. Also included is an increase in scholarships which includes a stipend to be paid to those who enrol in the Trade School, continued School upgrades including new blocks and maintenance works.
- Funding for required EIAs to conclude long outstanding work on the NPOs and to bring welcomed closure for the unfortunate 10-year experience for Chalk Sound Homeowners; to enhance gaming, and anti-money laundering training.
- Investment in Social Security: increase in Home Help Programme for the elderly, seed monies of $250k for a Credit Union for the Public Service; return of Terminal Benefits/Gratuity for the Public Service.
- Ports Redevelopment in Providenciales; continued work at the South Caicos Ports, Belle Field Landing and the dredging works in the North Caicos Channel.
- The Development of a multisector agency to regulate the electricity, water and telecommunications sector.
- Local Government works and continued community enhancement projects.
My Government’s overall strategy is to continue to spend; consequently stimulating the economy. Our capital programme is aimed at ensuring that there are employment opportunities for many residents and is also heavily focused only on projects that will allow money to remain in TCI.
Your Government believes that key investment to improve lives, to enhance national security, to develop schools and provide educational opportunities, to fund disaster management espeically as we get ready for the hurricane season in a few weeks, to enhance deliverey of services and to continue with community projects all must continue as we chart the way forward beyond the pandemic.
I want to remind us all why the Budget had to be passed: in order to give effect to the cash grants under the Stimulus Package. It is important that we address things said that is intended to mislead our people. The suggestion that we should remove the 3% to 10% limit off of the Contingency Fund could not be considered neither did we have $30m unused and accessible that could be used at the end of the financial year. There was also a suggestion that we increase the Stimulus to $120m, which will essentially wipe out our unencumbered savings in one month together with the funds needed for monthly obligations. I assure the people of the country that these decisions are taken in our country’s best interests as no one knows the length of this pandemic and the true fall-out. While we fund the stimulus package and pay monthly obligations, we must also consider the unknown health costs and the hurricane season on our heel. We believe it best to proceed with caution and to recognise that we are possibly in a marathon and not a sprint and that assistance must be gauged and reviewed over the period of the pandemic.
The Budget went through the required constitutional changes and was passed last Thursday, 23rd April 2020.
To date, the Ministry of Finance, Investment and Trade has received over 9,500 employee grant applications and launched the Business Grant Application over the weekend.
The Employee Stimulus
The Ministry of Finance, Investment and Trade is working with programme developers to automate the process, so that documentation validations will be the major part of the process requiring human input. We have found that there are a number of duplications or erroneous applications, which when purged may take that eligible number down to about 7,500. We are aiming at having the payments released by Friday, 8 May, 2020.
Coronavirus Business Assistance Grant
The Government, in an effort to assist the small business community, has made allowances for eligible small businesses and self-employed persons to access a one-off cash grant under the Coronavirus Business Assistance Grant. The online application process was launched on 24th April 2020 following Cabinet’s approval of the Policy.
For the purpose of this grant programme, small businesses are micro, small and medium-sized enterprises or MSMEs registered under the Business Licensing Ordinance. These businesses are then further defined in relation to the number of employees within each category. It is critical to note that in giving effect to this initiative, the Government must institute appropriate processes that are in accordance with existing legislation and procedure. As such, self-employed persons and MSMEs are required to satisfy a set of criteria which would enable them access to the grant funding available.
Further to pre-existing criteria as provided for under the MSME Development Ordinance (commenced on 1st April 2016), the grant provides financial assistance to those categories of small businesses that are “not wholly or majority owned or a subsidiary of a larger company, and businesses majority owned by Turks and Caicos Islanders.” However, this does not exclude other small business operators who do not satisfy this criterion from benefitting under the stimulus package. In fact, persons who do not meet these criteria may be eligible to apply for financial assistance under this grant programme as self-employed persons. It should also be noted that persons employed by any category of business that serves the hospitality sector are invited to apply for the financial assistance available to hospitality workers.
I wish to repeat that the Stimulus, when conceived, was to support the hospitality sector and businesses that support the hospitality sector. Businesses were listed, and a provision for others was inserted as the list was in-exhaustive. Since this time, we have initiated a mandatory shut down which has further impacted other sectors. The Ministry of Finance is looking at how we might provide assistance to those businesses and employees who have been impacted by the curfew and mandatory closure of businesses. This includes identifying funding, the numbers of persons and the level of, and/or type of assistance. A number of sectors have reached out to myself and the Ministry and are being considered in the grander scheme of things guided by the availability of funding.
Let me state clearly; this programme is designed to stimulate this economy by getting cash to those whose income has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequential economic fall-out. We understand the concerns from many who like us will be appalled if in fact monies are remitted overseas. Truth is in our consideration; we have too heard from businesses whose goods will see an increase in cost should a further tax be applied and likewise we have heard from TC Islanders who have children overseas or relatives who may need to share their gains in that manner. Both sides are not lost on us, and we are carefully considering all factors.
Additionally, I am advising you that the Ministry of Education has sought and received the approval of its Social Enhancement Aide Stimulus Policy and will be rolling it out within the next few days. This programme will assist those who are unemployed and seeks to support as many families as possible through the provision of food vouchers.
Likewise, it is important to listen to the announcements to come from the Ministry of Immigration, Citizenship, Labour and Employment Services as it relates to work permit holders who will no longer be employed.
Efforts continue to secure the names of TC Islanders who wish to return home and those who wish to leave the Turks and Caicos Islands. This work is spearheaded by the Ministry of Tourism, and we invite those interested, to make contact with the Ministry.
Bills and Regulations
Critical Bills and Regulations saw passage in the HOA during the recent sitting.
Among these were for the work of the Courts and the House of Assembly to continue virtually when and where possible.
We are pleased to also have provided further assistance to those who hold loans with TCIG under the TC Invest Programme inclusive of the former TOLCO loan accounts.
It is so important that we assist where we can not just as a Government but as individuals and organisations. Many are in need, and no Government is able to do it all. We must truly bless where we are able to and watch these blessings return to us.
This is our 5th week since the curfew has been enf, and much has changed worldwide and the life that we have grown accustomed to, seemed to have changed in a split second. By all accounts, social distancing will be with us for a while. We must recognise that there will be a new normal and we must remain vigilant as we chart forward.
I have already announced the Government’s strategy on life beyond the pandemic, in devising an economic strategy for the short, medium and long term. The Economic Council will be announced next week.
Even in the midst of this pandemic, we must chart the way forward.
May God bless us all and may He bless this beautiful by nature Turks and Caicos Islands.