During these challenging times, VCCI and VBRC have continued to work diligently to support the private sector and keep the private sector informed. This year VCCI and VBRC have focused on getting Vanuatu’s business community ‘COVID ready’ by providing Safe Business Operations training to thousands of business owners and operators across the provinces, ensuring businesses are informed on how to operate safely in a COVID environment. In addition, we have taken the lead to develop a range of industry Standard Operating Procedures, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, that has guided business operations to meet the required standards to operate safely and legally, in these times of COVID Alert level 3.
More recently, we have focused on encouraging decision-makers to improve their communications and clarify COVID-19 restrictions and protocols – including providing solutions to remove barriers to the movement of cargo, access to fresh food and vegetables in Port Vila and around the islands, and advocating for curfews to be based only on Ministry of Health recommendations.
As the nation’s private sector representative body, it is the specific role of VCCI to advocate for, and act on the needs of the local business community. As such, representing our members, their employees and their families, we respectfully request that the Government take into consideration the following:
Improve communications – ensure there is one message, from one official source. Businesses are currently receiving conflicting directives from Government sources. We call for the Government to centralise its communications and provide clear and concise advice on a regular basis. We ask that the advice follows legislation, health recommendations, and not political agenda.
A plan to end curfew – we are now 5 weeks to the day since the first case of community transmission was reported. The first case was reported on 4 March in Port Vila. Restricting movement now is not lessening transmission. Wearing of masks, handwashing and social distancing is. All businesses that comply with safe business operations should be allowed to operate.
No hard lockdown – there’s little doubt that lockdowns successfully slowed COVID’s spread in the first half of 2020 in many countries, reducing cases in the first wave. We have passed the point of ‘first wave’ and where a lockdown would prove effective in slowing COVID’s spread. Employers and employees deserve the right to earn a living. Do not enforce a hard lock down on citizens already suffering economically.
Bring our Ni Vanuatu citizens home – It is estimated that over 2000 people are waiting to return from Australia and New Zealand alone. The cash injection to the local economy from the return of these citizens could generate hundreds of millions of vatu for the country, which finds its way into the pockets of our people. With unexplained exceptions being given to returning soccer players and participants of the Dubai World Expo, we ask that the Government treat all of its citizens equally and open the borders to returning citizens as soon as possible especially considering the risk of introducing COVID-19 is no longer a valid reason to hold them outside of their home country
Better management of Government appointed provincial task force decision makers – VCCI and VBRC support our provincial business members who are in need. We are hearing reports of conflicting, multi-layered restrictions being enforced by provincial task force decision makers. Current issues facing TAFEA are severe. We call for clear direction and leadership from the national level on important matters such as supply chains and shipping to remove barriers to the free movement of cargo. Currently shipping having to comply with Shefa SOPs, +OMR SOPs, + destination province SOPs which has caused the return of vital cargo to people in need and port collection of agricultural exports abandoned.
Clarify Government plans for opening of borders – according to research published last month in the ANZ PACIFIC ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Vanuatu: rebuilding the economy, if borders remain shut, there will be irreversible damage done to the economy of Vanuatu. Large employers exiting tourism. It will lead to higher deficits and debt. And heightened loan defaults and financial stability risks.
VCCI has presented to the Government a possible process for a staged ‘soft’ reopening of borders. The plan focuses on returning citizens, residents and essential working visa holders over the next 2 months before the commencement of tourist arrivals planned to be 1 July 2022. We have not yet been able to meet face to face with the Government of Vanuatu but will continue to push for this discussion to be progressed as an urgent priority.
We ask respectfully that the Government listens to its people and makes decisions based on the needs of its people, as outlined above. In times of crisis, strong leadership is required. As always, VCCI and VBRC are here to serve