BY BERNADETTE H. CARREON
Palau Correspondent

Palau has rolled out on April 30 the temporary COVID-19 relief package to private sector, following the passage of the law setting aside $20 million economic stimulus.

Calling it the Coronavirus Relief One Stop Shop Act, President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr.  in a press conference May 6, praised Congress for the passage of the “historic legislation” to relieve the suffering within the Republic.”

He said, the relief measures are aimed at helping businesses through temporary job programs, unemployment stipends, basic utility access, tax deferral and small business loans with priority going to visitor-service industries.

Finance Minister Elbuchel Sadang, meanwhile, told reporters in the May 6 briefing that the relief assistance is for employees, both citizens and non-citizens that are impacted by COVID-19 either from job loss or reducing employee work hours.

He said that employees terminated or no longer working may be placed in work programs through Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs or with other companies.

Sadang said the assistance ensures that the private sector does not collapse by providing means for businesses to pay their employees during this COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure also provides for tax deferment, power utility subsidies or no interest loans.

Sadang said the ministry has began accepting applications of affected businesses since May 1 with at least 1,800 people applying for assistance.

The package was made possible by an authorization to borrow up to $60 million to mitigate the economic and social impacts of COVIC- 19 through Fiscal Year 2021.

Remengesau on his April 30  State of the Republic Addresss said that of that total, $20 million will be used to fund the private sector relief measures I just mentioned.

He added that another $21 million of that total will be used to cover local revenue shortfall and maintain government services, with $10 million of this coming initially from our General Reserve Fund and $11 million coming from loan financing.

States revenues have also been supplemented via State Block Grants to help offset reduced tourism revenues.

Non-Public Schools are also receiving assistance to help offset tuition losses.

The Civil Service Pension Plan is also receiving an increase of over $800,000 to replace lost funding.

Non-governmental organizations affected by the impact are also getting help by receiving a onetime grant of $50,000 to help sustain operation.

With this, Remengesau said that borders of Palau remain to be closed until further notice as he issued on May 1 a new executive order extending temporary flight suspensions from Hong Kong, Macau, and China to the nation until June 30th.

According to Executive Order No. 440, the restriction extends to “all travelers with travel history originating from or transiting through mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau within 14 days of their arrival in the Republic of Palau.”

However, exemptions can be applied to Palauan citizens and residents so long as they submit to a comprehensive health screening and 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Palau. Entry of cruise ships to Palau ports are also restricted until June 30.

Although it has announced earlier that it is working to charter a plane from Guam to bring Palau residents and citizens home, that plan is suspended until after consultation with Palau Congress who is resisting the move.

Palau is one of the nations in the world that has no confirmed cases, it has shored up defenses to prepare for the entry of COVID-19. Since April 14, random testing is being carried out, as of May 6, 437 individuals tested were negative of the coronavirus. mbj