To start of the new year, the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) met with Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Sogavare on Tuesday 5 January, 2020 to discuss what is anticipated to be another challenging year for businesses and engage on managing the impacts of the global pandemic on the country’s economy.
The SICCI Board was represented by the Chair, Jay Bartlett, the Vice Chair, Ricky Fuoó, members Daniel Tucker, Qila Tuhanuku, Craig Gibsone, Frank Wickham and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ms. Natalina Hong.
The discussions covered important topics such as the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP), the 2021 National Budget, Redirection Policy, Legislative Reforms, business confidence for 2021 and the proposed suspension on Facebook.
On the ESP, SICCI expressed the view that it could have been better structured while recommending the possibility of addressing an existing issue of unpaid invoices to businesses as a matter of priority.
“It is important that Government continues to pay its existing obligations on a timely manner. On one hand we have the ESP, on the other we still have a lot of outstanding payments to businesses that are due.
“This is an already existing financial relationship that we don’t need to allocate fund for. The financial relationship is there and if there is unspent money from the ESP then the priority should be getting some of those unpaid invoices paid off.
“That would help some of the existing businesses to continue to stay afloat. The longer they remain unpaid the more it compounds the impact on businesses,” SICCI Chairman, Mr Bartlett, said.
The Economic Association of Solomon Islands (EASI) in its independent view of the ESP said that the ESP was aimed at protecting economic activities from further deteriorating and to protect employment but thinly spreading the limited funds will not have a significant impact on the economy as the multiplier effect will be minimal.
EASI believes that Government should concentrate on protecting existing businesses.
SICCI emphasized that this is also an opportunity for Government to analyze the challenges ahead and push forward with a number of its intended legislative reforms like a National Building Code for Solomon Islands in anticipation of the big infrastructure spend to happen in the country due to the 2023 Pacific Games and other national projects.
Government needs to put in legislative measures to ensure that there is local content that has to be considered as part of these infrastructure spend over the next few years. Encouraging local content in the increasing infrastructure projects is crucial to maintaining employment and growth of the domestic building and contrition industry.
SICCI also discussed with the Prime Minister the outcome of its Annual Business Confidence Survey which the SICCI Secretariat conducted towards the end of 2020.
The obvious result of the survey is that there is lack of confidence among businesses heading into 2021 which is understandable due to the ongoing health and economic crisis and prolonged state of public emergency.
Making reference to the proposed National Building Code, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said Government can use it to protect its interest especially as building infrastructure spring up everywhere in Honiara City.
“It will serve as a baseline of Government expectations on investors, a buffer for mobocracy on building infrastructure,” he said.
The Prime Minister Sogavare adds: “Even the National State of Public Emergency, SOPE, will not go on forever. At some point, the SOPE will be lifted and a COVID-19 vaccine will be available.”
On the COVID-19 vaccine update, the Prime Minister told SICCI that Government relies on the expertise of the World Health Organization (WHO) on a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe, effective and free from side effects for its people.
Also in discussion was the proposed ban on Facebook and the results of another survey SICCI conducted on businesses relating to this issue.
“The result is that businesses overwhelmingly do not support the suspension of Facebook,” SICCI Chair, Mr Bartlett, informed the Prime Minister.
“70% of our membership is made up of SME’s who are going to be more impacted by the proposed suspension. Our concern is our membership.
“We share and support the view and concern about the usage of Facebook and the need for it to be regulated and holding people accountable.
“However, in the midst of a health and economic crisis for us and our smaller members, this is going to be a big hit on a lot of them.
“That is the position we are going to take reflective of our membership. We hope there is another way to work around this issue while keeping Facebook operational,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bartlett on behalf of the SICCI Board and members wished the Prime Minister and his Government a happy New Year.
“We don’t anticipate 2021 to be easier than 2020 but we are prepared for the challenges ahead, prepared to work closely with Government, and come out of this situation in a stronger position as a nation,” he said.
Both the Government and SICCI agree, the “Umi together slogan” is the baseline for their cooperation.