Representatives of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce went up Capital Hill on Monday to meet with members of the House of Representatives to talk about coronavirus outbreak’s devastating effect on the CNMI economy, as well as possible solutions.
The primary aim is to see what could be collectively done by businesses, the private sector, and the government to help keep the islands’ economy afloat in the middle of the virus outbreak.
“This is a CNMI issue,” said Chamber president Velma M. PPalacios. “Some people think it’s only a government issue where the government is going on austerity. However, it is really affecting everybody [and] affecting all the businesses because we are dependent on tourism as our only industry.”
Right now, hotels are experiencing their lowest occupancy, Palacios said, with some hotels even at single digits. Many have also expressed concerns over flight cancellations and uncertainties in terms of the shipment of goods to the CNMI.
“We have our airlines with all these flight cancellations. First, it was just China, now Korea and Japan. That’s also going to affect our numbers again,” she said.
Palacios emphasized that it is not just the hotels and airlines that are affected, but also every other business in the CNMI, such as stores and restaurants. “They’re all trying to cut costs and see what they can do throughout this period of economic crisis, and a lot of businesses have already started reducing hours of their employees. It’s not only the government, it’s everybody that’s in this community that’s affected.”
Laying out all these concerns, Chamber board member Alex Sablan said the intent is not to scare but to focus on what everyone has to do as a Commonwealth to stave off other impacts that are coming.
Possible solutions laid out included the fast-tracking of Federal Emergency Management Agency rebuilding projects and reimbursements, the relaxation of the stringent requirements on using capital improvement project funding, and on the restriction on the use of federal funds, and even micro-lending using Marianas Public Land Trust funds.
“Keeping the small mom-and-pop operations for the foreseeable two- to three- or four-month timeline [and] giving them $25,000 to $35,000 unsecured loans would be very helpful to keep the doors open and keeping payroll at least some semblance of people on the ground going,” Sablan said. “We want to look at everything we can get from a local consumption standpoint to keep this Commonwealth economy fueled as much as possible.”
The Chamber was set to meet with the Office of the Governor yesterday to continue their series of dialogues with government officials, to help save the CNMI economy.