No plan for COVID rule wage losses; Gov’t favouring curfews over lockdowns

#TurksandCaicos, February 17, 2021 – The crippling 6 p.m. curfew for Turks and Caicos is gone but so are wages for individuals and companies who made their income in the evening hours.  A string of snap regulations shifting here or there every two weeks is designed to cut down on new cases of COVID, instead it is cutting down revenue and income.

“We say we can go back to 9 o’clock where 8 o’clock businesses close to try and keep that balance between lives and livelihoods, protecting you from Covid-19 but still allowing you to make a living,” said Edwin Astwood, Minister of Health in a Monday press conference.

The Minister said the Cabinet has to make tough choices; will it be a curfew or a lockdown is what the men and women seated in the room are weighing as infection figures soar.

The curfew is considered the lesser of two evils and it is.  Government still has no stated plan to pay any more monies out to residents and business owners to soften the blow of these unrelenting and revenue stunting restrictions.  When a curfew steals a few hours; a lock down freezes activity all together. 

“I do not want to talk for the Ministry of Finance or the Minister of Finance.  We know that persons are hurting and that is why we are here today always balancing lives and livelihoods, said Minister Astwood.

Earlier in the day on February 15, a fortnightly Cabinet meeting was held.  Unless there is an emergency, it is the last session to take place prior to the General Election which is this Friday February 19.

The curfew is now pushed to a later time; 9 p.m. but with it comes the rule for no patrons to be allowed into businesses.  Individuals are to buy their food and drink to go or curbside and no hanging out or gaming is allowed. 

It is a measure which is being met with push back.  Lounges and gaming parlours are still opening their doors to customers who sit, stay and play.

Parties are also forbidden at this time and there is chatter that residents are still renting private villas to hold parties, out of plain sight.  Parties were fingered for the resurgence in coronavirus cases following the Christmas holidays.

 “…there are a few persons who are making it bad for all Turks and Caicos Islanders,” said Minister Edwin Astwood, who announced the measures in a Facebook Live broadcast on Monday evening, “We don’t like the measures, I certainly hope that we can reach to a point that we see the curve continue to flatten, as we are seeing now.”

Government remains satisfied with a ticketing system, though there are calls to criminalise the offenses given the severe losses being recorded to the public purse, economic activity and household incomes.

“We do not like the measures,” explained the Minister who also offered, “The Hon Premier has been talking about what other stimulus can be given to people going forward.  Certainly as soon as the House of Assembly is back in session after the elections, you will hear more of those things being debated and trust me, passed in the House of Assembly.”

When the last stimulus report was issued on January 29, it revealed that 3,129 applications for the second round of financial support were received.  Of this 1,130 were disbursed for payment.  It meant 1,199 people did not receive the $600.  The report explained that 850 applications were still being processed; 300 was due to get money by end of January; 558 applications were declined, the reason went unstated and 583 applications were in limbo due to missing documentation.

The TCIG $25 million Stimulus budget was not completely exhausted up to December 2020; the report to the HOA Appropriations Committee reflected a $5.5 million reduction in funding to the Economic Stimulus plan.  The same report informed that the Committee approved $19.3 million as the new budgeted sum for the stimulus, a figure which fell nearly $12 million below the previously budgeted $25 million dollars for financial support to workers and businesses amidst the pandemic.

On the day of the dissolution of the House of Assembly, Sharlene Robinson, TCI Premier and Finance Minister informed good use would be made of the untapped millions.

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