Businesses React To Shutdown
The second bout of shutdown decided by the government late on Monday evening is cause for concern from an economy that is just making its way back to recovery.
With counting the costs of the global downturn, and the reaction of shutting off domestic borders for trade, delays in shipping through limited ports, the economy, it seemed, accepted the new norm.
But the last two weeks have proven otherwise with the surge in Covid-19 cases and this has been met with mixed thoughts from major businesses, a lot of confidence in the trials and tribulations of the last four months have been met with the fears of an economy that needs to run as opposed to one that shuts itself down.
The country’s tax collector, Internal Revenue Commission, affirmed the country is on track to reach its revenue loss estimations of K2.16 billion within the first part of the second half of 2020, with the rest of it sure to make more inroads into the money plan.
Speaking to businesses following the announcement made yesterday to shut down the capital, Port Moresby, for the next two weeks- many seemed more prepared at the task ahead in their responses, reiterating the new norm as being sufficient for them to self regulate their operations.
A striking contrast to the last shutdown enforced in March.
Businesses, however, have not lost sight of what a total lockdown can have on the overall economic ecosystem.
It seems the government has also been cognisant to the damage the last shutdown had on the economy with Pandemic Act orders somewhat friendlier than the last.
But everyone knows things can change late into any evening announcements made by the State.
Essential service provider and the largest bank in the country, Bank South Pacific has maintained it will still continue its operations over the two-week shutdown period.
BSP Group CEO Robin Fleming maintained that with the advice of the lockdown in Port Moresby, only minor adjustments need to be made to transportation arrangements for staff both living within and outside the capital due to the public transport ban.
“Whilst formal confirmation of the measures approved by the National Control Centre was only received around 5pm (on Monday night) we have been in contact with bus owners to arrange transport for our staff to work with the transport to comply with hygiene and social distancing requirements.
“There may well be some initial disruptions for staff on the first day due to co-ordination logistics and late advice to staff.
It is also expected that the restrictions on movement between NCD and Central Province may make it difficult for some staff to travel to work and as a result, we will have to assess staffing levels at each of our Port Moresby branches and realign staffing temporarily between branches,” he said.
“As Port Moresby is the head office of our PNG and Pacific operations, all staff in our Head Office departments will also continue to work except where they are unable to travel to NCD.”
One of the largest employers in the country, New Britain Palm Oil Limited has reiterated its comprehensive Preparedness and Emergency Response Plan (PERP) was introduced in March this year taking on all six major revisions to adapt to the developing pandemic situation.
A major plan, NBPOL CEO James Graham says, considers nationwide response beyond the precincts of Port Moresby for the company’s national operations.
“This included a number of important measures such as; social distancing and sanitation measures have been implemented across all our operations since March. We have 140 clinics, health centres and aid posts across our operations.
“For these, a comprehensive Clinical Management Protocol was introduced in early April for our clinical staff and facilities, which has undergone 3 major revisions.
“We have procured approx K1.1 million additional PPE and medical equipment for our clinics to prepare them for Covid-19,” Mr Graham said.
“So we are as ready as we could hope to be for the arrival of this devastating disease.
That said, in the interests of the 21,000 Papua New Guineans that NBPOL employs, their families and those businesses who service the company, it is vitally important that the escalating Covid-19 infections in Port Moresby don’t spread to the provinces.
Domestic travel restrictions are critical.
“As long as the disease can be kept out of the provinces where our business units operate, the situation in Port Moresby will have only a small impact, most notably on our sugar and beef sales.”
Major superannuation fund, Nambawan Super CEO, Paul Sayer maintained as an essential service to it 200,000 members, the fund is committed to remain open and ensure members eligible to receive payments can access their funds at this critical time.
He added that while Covid-19 has presented many challenges, it has also driven innovation and forcing businesses to adapt to the challenge where contact is best avoided.
“Nambawan Super is finding new ways of working that take advantage of technology to continue to meet members’ needs,” Mr Sayer said.
“The Superannuation General Provisions Act was drafted 20 years ago – seven years before the first iPhone was released.
But now, handheld devices are common place and the undersea internet cable is transforming the reliability and availability of internet to PNG.
“Through the past few months we have made progress in using technology to safely and efficiently deliver services ensuring members can access their entitlements.
“We would like to fast track the provision of digital services further and will be engaging with the regulator to seek support to fast track digitising our services – for the benefit of members and employers around the country.”
The fund encouraged as much as possible and safely, as many businesses should continue to operate, providing services and goods needed across the community and critically continue to provide employment.
“Whilst we would not support a purely economic – wealth before health – approach, we believe if businesses can operate, staff can safely get to and from work and be safe while they work, these businesses should be encouraged to remain open,” he said.
“All around the world business and governments are talking about working in the ‘New Normal’ – and for PNG it is no different with the ‘Niupela Pasin’.
Covid-19 is here for the long term until there is better treatment or vaccination, and businesses need to be encouraged to adapt to the new normal.
“Businesses need to be proactive and creative to respond to the threat of Covid-19 on their operations, whilst taking appropriate precautions for their staff.”
Major retailer City Pharmacy Limited emphasised the need for the supply chain to remain open to cater for the two important needs in the retail space, which is “food and medicine” according to CPL managing director Mahesh Patel.
He reiterated the lesson of the last lockdown should be taken on board in terms of ensuring fresh produce makes its way to market.
Elaborating also on the need for proper practice at all levels of business along with improved consultation with business on decisions responding to the pandemic.
“The key for our sector (food and medicine), is that the supply chain between domestic borders are still open, which is better, but it’s a negative for small scale farmers, who will have issues in bringing product to the market,” Mr Patel said.
“Whilst big businesses are following the guidelines, authorities need to strictly police the small traders, markets, and PMVs – health is paramount – short-term pain for a long-term gain.
“There needs to be consistent messaging from the authorities and it would REALLY be helpful for a quick consultation with Business before any announcements, so we can plan – last night’s (Monday, July 27) information and directives came out around 5pm, when a lot of our staff had left the office, not knowing what will happen in the morning with public transport etc.”
Finding the right balance indeed was summed up by Remington Group CEO Peter Goodwin should be key.
“I’m no scientist, however, my view is that Covid-19 has not just emerged in PNG in the past couple of weeks, it’s likely been here and spreading amongst our various communities, including the settlements, for several months.
“Our businesses are struggling to remain afloat as it is, and our people need their work.
We may well be forced to stand people down and if so, in addition to the social repercussions to grass-roots families, what will be the impacts to law and order?
“So clearly, our economy is at breaking point…and while I am definitely happy to see the curfew, social distancing and sanitisation measures enforced, including the use of face masks, I am definitely not in favour of a general lockdown. To do so would be disastrous.
“In closing, there has to be a fair and even application of the rules too, no exceptions for politicians, police, high flying VIP’s, mates and other blow-ins,” a frank Mr Goodwin said.
Of course, no one prepares for a pandemic that has never been seen before, so the first reaction is not always the right one.
Fingers crossed the country has learnt some lessons, for now, to safeguard the intrinsic relationship of its health and economic wellbeing as well.