GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (CNS) – Commerce Minister Joey Hew has announced a low-interest loan programme for 100 percent Caymanian-owned micro and small businesses and a grants initiative for local businesses that could survive the immediate post-COVID-19 economy. At Monday’s press briefing Hew outlined the first measures in a stimulus package that government plans to implement once the curfew restrictions are relaxed, but said other measures were in the works for the wider commercial sector.
The minister said the priority was still the health crisis and ensuring that we curtail the spread of the virus or flatten the curve of that spread. But he said the government was preparing for a post-COVID-19 local economy.
The ministry of Commerce is offering free technical support, such as accounting and training, to business owners. However, the two major elements of this first package of support are loans and grants.
The $5 million loan programme, which will be made through the Cayman Islands Development Bank, is for Caymanian-owned micro and small businesses. The loans will be rated at one percent interest over five years, with no payments for the first six months. Loans will be a maximum of $20,000 for micro-businesses and $50,000 for small businesses. All applicants will need to meet specific criteria.
The other major area of financial support will come from grants, with $9 million being set aside for 3,000 vulnerable businesses. This money will be given to existing micro and small businesses in the form of a $1,000 monthly payment for three months to give them working capital.
These businesses must have existed for 12 months; they must also show they have a domestic market and demonstrate that they can survive the post-virus local economy. The grants will also be available to tourism businesses that can show that they can transition into a viable domestic business.
“The loan programme will be for 100 percent Caymanian-owned companies,” Hew said. “The grants programme is for small and micro business… but the key issue is if you were a tourism-related business that you have the ability to convert your business into a business that can survive under the new local economy.”
The government cannot support a former tourism business that cannot transition because it “makes no sense”, the minster said, pointing out that it will be a very long way down the line before tourism returns. However, the offer of training and the technical provision from this first package of measures will also try to help those formerly in tourism to see if there is some way to adapt each business model.
Hew said his ministry was looking at different incentives and other stimulus packages that will be available across the board to help businesses come back. He said the ministry would continue talking to the local business community through the Small Business Association and the Chamber of Commerce about what can work.
The premier has said that the government supports the idea of a pension holiday and possibly even withdrawals from funds, but that this will require legislative change.
How the parliament can meet remains in question. In addition to the social distancing measures that the premier is concerned about, the leader has not yet addressed the sticky issue of there being no speaker of the Legislative Assembly, given that McKeeva Bush has taken a leave of absence and remains the subject of potential prosecution, and the deputy speaker resigned.