Government plans to implement stimulus packages to rebuild the economy that was crippled by novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The initiatives include a one-year $40 million COVID Relief programme and a $300 million stimulus package to be known as BEST (Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation Plan).
This is in an effort “to help every Barbadian keep their head above the turbulent social and economic seas in which we find ourselves”, said Governor General Dame Sandra Mason on Tuesday as she delivered the Throne Speech during the historic State Opening of Parliament at Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. (LESC).
The Throne Speech, the second in the past 27 months, was held at the LESC, due to the unavailability of the historic Parliament Buildings in Bridgetown.
“The COVID Relief Programme will be designed to ensure that people in the country have work to which they can go. While the private sector fights to restore a level of economic activity and provide jobs, Government will play its part to ensure that the largest number of people possible is able to support their families,” said Dame Sandra.
Activities include “the hiring of monitors in primary schools, to assist in ensuring that the children physical distance during breaks and lunch hour, as well as before and after school; engaging persons to assist the workers of the National Assistance Board in supporting services for our elderly; . . . the enhancement of our food security through the engagement of persons to work at the island’s Agricultural Stations; and the allocation of allotments for agricultural production, to persons living in urban Barbados”.
Projects will also be undertaken in the Scotland district.
In relation to BEST, the largest stimulus package being offered, Dame Sandra said this will aid the tourism industry which has been crippled by COVID-19.
“Tourism accounts for 45 per cent of Barbados’ GDP. It employs a significant amount of our workforce. Some 15 000 people are employed directly in the tourism industry, while a further 32 000 workers are estimated to be employed in tourism-related jobs and services.
“The BEST Programme will be a maximum of $300 million scheme for hotels and tourism facilities as a response to COVID-19. . . . It is intended to protect jobs, support the balance sheets of our companies in the tourism sector and those of direct tourism services, and ultimately, ensure that our physical infrastructure remains fit for when some level of normalcy returns. Barbados must be fully prepared for that moment,” the Governor General said.
BEST has three main feature, chief of which is that “Government will make an investment in tourism firms which will enable them to re-engage all of their workers on 80 per cent of their normal salary for up to two years should the need arise”.
In addition to BEST and the COVID Relief Programme, Home Ownership Providing Energy (HOPE) will feature the construction of 1 000 affordable homes.
Dame Sandra said lands of Todds plantation near Four Roads and other lands near Chancery Lane have been identified as the location for the first 200 homes.
Police officers, nurses, teachers, and other civil servants earning $4 000 a month and under will have the first option to buy these houses.
The total cost of the scheme is over $250 million with the Government putting in $40m. Mortgages are expected to be less than the cost of renting similar sized homes.
“The HOPE scheme will operate in such a way as to reduce the cost of land, mortgages, and construction and give real value to purchasers who will get land worth $20 or more per square foot, for no more than $12 per square foot.”
All homes will be energy efficient and solar powered.