COVID-19 is clearly the greatest economic crisis of recent times and has impacted all countries across the world. Despite Vanuatu being largely COVID-19 free, we are unfortunately not immune to the economic impacts. This is going to get worse before it gets better and therefore, we ask that sensible risk reduction measures to be put in place now.
In almost all sectors in Vanuatu the revenue is down. The VCCI ran a survey of businesses in December 2020, and the average fall in revenue reported was 46%. The very small businesses are suffering too including handicraft vendors, fruit and vegetable vendors, kava sellers. All have all reported large decreases in sales.
While there is no national statistics available on employment numbers, everyone is aware of rising unemployment and everyone knows someone who has lost their job. From all of VCCI’s research it is clear that businesses will further reduce their workforce size again shortly. The private sector is suffering, and most have done everything they can to keep operating and keep staff employed. 42% of business people from the VCCI December survey reported using personal savings to keep their business operating. This is not sustainable as these funds will run dry and most businesses cannot afford to go into more debt by borrowing more money from the banks.
VCCI is doing what it can. It has sought external funding assistance to increase its range of support programs. These programs have included;
- VCCI travelled across Vanuatu to ensure that all businesses could apply for ESP last year. We processed over 2000 business support submissions to ensure they reached the Ministry of Finance.
- High level meetings with Government since October 2020 – providing a variety of solutions that could assist the country’s economic recovery. However, these have not yet been implemented.
- Supporting Oxfam UnBlocked Cash program which is an emergency response for most in need families, and is putting food on people’s tables across Shefa, Tafea and Sanma provinces.
- Supporting people to have right skills to stay in business including providing workshops, mentoring programs, business and life coaching that have been attended by hundreds of business people.
As the economic impacts intensify, and to reduce future risks to the people of Vanuatu, VCCI would like to request that the Government considers escalating two aspects of its response;
- in the first instance, we are asking the Government to implement the Wage Subsidy and Small Business Stimulus schemes package that was presented by VCCI in December 2020 to keep people employed and put money back into the local economy.
- Secondly, in order to protect the health and safety of our people, VCCI requests the Government to make the COVID-19 vaccine rollout its number one priority.
The two economic stimulus schemes have been designed to be as easy as possible to implement, and could transform the outcomes for many families keeping at least some members employed. The total cost of these two schemes is estimated as a maximum of VUV 150 million a month. The Government has just announced a surplus of VUV 7.1 billion for 2020. The Government has the money to support the people of Vanuatu and we are requesting it to do so.
However, the Government cannot of course continue to support the people in this way forever. Therefore, we are also calling on the Government to make the vaccine rollout its number one priority. A successful vaccine programme will help to protect the health of the people of Vanuatu, and gives us the best chance at being able to safely reopen borders when the time is right. VCCI understands that Parliament is not due to sit until late April, but needs to meet much before then to approve the use of the vaccine. We request a date for this Parliament sitting to be confirmed as a matter of urgency. Fiji and Solomon islands have begun their vaccine roll outs and Cook Islands and Niue has already started quarantine free travel with New Zealand. VCCI would like to make sure that Vanuatu is next in line for this important vaccine.
VCCI respectfully requests the Government in this open public press release to consider escalating the two important points – the economic stimulus and prioritising vaccines. VCCI assures the Government that the private sector stands ready to support these measures.
VCCI would like to hear from you whether you agree with the points raised. Please complete the survey found on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/VanuatuChamberofCommerceandIndustry or write to us on firstname.lastname@example.org