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Businesses are relying on Cook Islands government to prop them up – but the finance minister says the money will last only six months.
Cook Islands Security has 24 uniformed security officers, guarding businesses and public services like the Internal Affairs help centre at Sinai Hall.
But resorts can no longer pay their bills: the company is surviving on the hope that government will keep them working.
“l am still paying wages but as most of my patrol clients have closed up, this could be my last month if l don’t get government in to help,” director Chris Denny said.
Finance Minister Mark Brown warned that government had enough cash reserves to fuel the country for six months; after that, it would need to look overseas for help. That would mean deciding whether to run up debt.
“I want to reiterate that the government’s priority is to ensure that our people, and our businesses, in our country, receive the support during this time.
“We know you’re doing it tough. Covid-19 is an economic tsunami. It is sending waves of adversity over our economy and the government’s emergency package is designed to help us all get to higher ground together.
“From these waves of adversity, we are working with our people and our business community to build layers of resilience.
“We have a long road ahead of us. It will take time – but know this, we will get back on track, we will come out on the other side.”
Brown said officials estimated the private sector employed 6000 people, most working in tourism. That is why they had allocated $19 million (US$11.2 million) for the wage subsidies, to keep these people on the payroll.
“We want employers to hold onto their workers. Our jobs and businesses don’t just provide financial security, they give us purpose and social connection. For many of us our sense of self, our identity, is tied up with the work we do. When we lose our job or employment, the street can be overwhelming. Everyone’s feeling it in our community.”
Government opened applications for support packages like the wage subsidy, unemployment benefit and school holidays benefit.
Already, said Brown, government agencies had been contacted by 4645 people about support.
At Cook Islands Security, Denny said the world would never be the same again.
“This will be a long journey for all of us but we can make it less painful by helping police keep the peace over the next six to 12 months.”
Denny said they planned to protect government assets, schools and holiday properties over the next six months, at least.
“Around the world the ratio of security to policeman is 5 to 1 but this will triple in the coming months as demand for protection services increase.”
Government supporting security services was a win-win solution, he argued. “It helps keep peace on this beautiful island during some hard times ahead, and puts food on the table for his brave team and family.”
He said to protect the entire security team they will operate four small teams of 4-5 so if one gets sick his whole team will be stood down and replaced. “Like police and medical staff we make every effort to not to get sick.
“I hope government hears my call for duty as l prepare to train and uniform more security guards in the meantime – or l shut down and wait for what’s to come like everybody else.”
The company has purchased a new patrol car to improve their presence and response time.
And Denny said he had been working with the Cook Islands Tertiary Training Institute to get Cook Islanders trained and properly licensed as security guards, but the course had been delayed.
SOURCE: PNG TODAY/PACNEWS
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