Mon | Nov 29, 2021

Tourism transport interests offered million-dollar loans

Published:Wednesday | June 30, 2021 | 12:13 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

Tourism transportation operators now have access to $70 million interest-free under a special memorandum of understanding signed by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and Jamaica National Small Business Loan (JNSBL).

The announcement was made by Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett during the debate on casino legislation in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

The loans become accessible at any Jamaica National Bank as of Thursday, July 1, and can only be paid on interest incurred on existing loans to prevent repossession.

Members of the Jamaica Union of Travellers Association (JUTA) will access $35 million, the Jamaica Cooperative Automobile and Limousine Tours (JCAL) $17.5 million, and Maxi Tours $17.5 million. Combined, the three associations average some 6,000 members.

“Maximum loan amount per beneficiary is $1 million, with an eight-month moratorium and three years to pay,” Bartlett stated, adding there was no processing fee.

Hit hard by loss of income as a result of the pandemic, many transport operators had to sit back and watch the banks repossess their vehicles.

However, Bartlett noted that accessing the stimulus package has been made easy, and to facilitate even more, the TEF has secured the services of certified accountants to assist the applicants in preparing cash-flow statements that are required as part of the application.

“The accountants have facilitated over 40 drivers since Saturday, June 26th, and the rest are being facilitated as we speak,” he revealed.

SHOCKED BY ANNOUNCEMENT

But president of JCAL, Brian Thelwell, said he was shocked by the announcement because he and his members were awaiting a grant and not a loan from the Government.

The understanding was gleaned from a meeting they attended with the prime minister and minister of finance, October 2020, wherein a proposal was put forward for $200 million to be taken from the $3.2 billion that was made available to the tourism sector as a grant.

“We would have used that money to retire some of the debts that our members had at the commercial banks that were non-performing. Subsequently, we were advised by the minister of tourism that we would only be able to access $70 million from the TEF,” he said.

Thelwell said they were still convinced at that time that it was still a grant.

“If these buses are repossessed and the members’ credit ratings are impaired, where will we be able to access funds to retool and even refresh our fleet, given the fact that transportation is the cog that makes tourism work?” said Thelwell.

In the scheme of things, he feels their concerns have been treated with scant regard.

President of JUTA Montego Bay Chapter, Simon Lawrence, said that he appreciated the gesture, but insisted, as well, that his members were lobbying for a grant.

Lawrence said that he has lost 35 per cent of his active members who have diversified into farming and other sources of income.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com