News Item

Jay Bartlett - Focus on the tasks ahead

Industry Advice 6 Apr 2020

Jay is a young visionary leader who has been the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SICCI) Board Chair since 2015. He was Vice Chair in 2014 and has been a SICCI member since 2013. As director of Hatanga Limited, Jay has over 10 years in the construction business and has served a number of Board roles. As the Pacific region grapples with the effects brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jay, who is currently held up in Brisbane Australia shared with PCF how the Solomon Islands are currently responding to the crisis.

Hello Jay, thank you for allowing us to gain an insight on your side of things given the current situation. Before we get into our discussion on Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce, how are you doing?

At the moment I am unable to get home due to the closure of our boarders.

How are you coping mentally and emotionally since the outbreak?

I think like a lot of other people we are still reeling from how quickly things have changed over the last few weeks. It's only been around 4 months since the initial outbreak and a lot has changed extremely quickly with a lot of uncertainty with the current situation and what the future holds. From watching it on TV a few weeks ago to now getting impacted personally which the public health measures put in place the reality and gravity of the seriousness of it all is sinking in. You go through mixed emotions of concern for your well being and of those around and also concerns for the impacts on our people in the Solomon Islands. Like any challenge you undergo you always stay positive, stay focused and always focus on the task ahead and keep working though step by step, day by day.

Before COVID-19, what were some of the highlights you've encountered since your time as SICCI Chair?

SICCI has provided a platform & launch pad for emerging leaders such and myself and others to be able to contribute and participate in the national development narrative a meaningful way. I am proud of the fact that the Solomon Islands Chamber team is young, innovative & passionate. We are a direct reflection of our population demographics. Being able to build a network around the Pacific and meet and develop a lot of partnerships & friends has been a highlight. The opportunity to meet and have dialogue with our leaders and using all these experiences and learnings to contribute to our development is also a highlight.

It has been reported that there are 153 COVID-19 cases in the Pacific region, fortunately there are no cases in the Solomon Islands however its impact has hit the Pacific economy hard. From your perspective, do you think the Pacific private sector could have invested more in mitigation and risk plans for pandemics as much as they did with natural disasters (cyclones)?

Hindsight is a beautiful thing they say. From my experience the Private Sector in the pacific is made up of many SME’s and small family business. For example SICCI’s membership base is 70% is SME (under 20 employees) and a lot of time small business are limited by resources & capacity to invest in resilience for the impacts of climate change and now global pandemics. Ideally yes we all should be looking at strengthen our resilience in our business & communities but I think in reality many of our members are more focused on making ends meet and keeping the lights on. This I believe will serve as a major wake up call for us.

With Solomon Islands declared a state of public emergency and suspending all international flights, how has this affected SICCI members? How is the SICCI supporting its members, businesses and the government at the moment?

The impacts are significant and immediate. The public health measures that have been implemented to protect our people has unfortunately brought our economy to a halt. Our tourism industry overnight has collapsed and many of our other sectors are suffering. For many small Pacific Islands states it’s a double tragedy, a public health and economic crisis. The impacts on our livelihoods and society will be wide reaching and broad. How it all plays out depends how we can find a balance between protecting our public health while managing the effects on the economy.

As a chamber we firstly have outlined the 3 things we need to work towards with our government. 1) protect lives and livelihoods 2) Support our employees and their families 3) support our business. We have been keeping our members informed on changes that are being implemented, sometimes on a daily basis.

We also represent our members interests/views on the different Government committees and also to provide feedback to the Government to understand the impact on the Solomon Islands economy.

It has been reported that the SICCI is currently surveying its members about the impacts of COVID-19 on their businesses, can you tell us in more detail the purpose of this survey?

This will be going out in the next few days and this will help to quantify the impact on business especially on the number of job-loss. The full extent of the impact will not be known and it will be a moving target but collating some of the initial impacts will help us all get a better understanding and in turn inform decision on necessary interventions. Things are happening so quickly that at the moment we are trying to play catch up on what is happening in the market place.

Are the Solomon Islands receiving any support from its development partners/multilateral development banks to reduce the effects of COVID-19 on its economy, and if so, what actions have they taken to support your home country's response to COVID-19? How could their support be extended to the private sector?

Yes indeed. Our Donor partners have stepped in to provide both technical & financial support. Just in the last few days Australia has announced a SBD$70M support package in three main areas

1) Maintaining essential health care services

2) Addressing the economic impact of the pandemic

3) Supporting Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

New Zealand has assisted in setting up the isolation ward and NZD$3M

China has also provided USD$300,00 with medical equipment.

WHO has also worked closely with our Ministry of Health.

All this support has been helping in our preparedness & emergency response Covid-19.

Just announced by our Prime Minister is the commitment from our multi-lateral agencies:

Asian Development Bank:USD$26 Million

World Bank: USD$ 20 Million

At the moment the Chamber is in dialogue with the relevant Government ministries & committees to see where the government can support & what interventions will make the most impact.

What do you think businesses in Solomon Islands, or anywhere in the Pacific really, can do specifically to prepare for the idea that travel, consumer spending and operations may be diminished for a longer period of time, rather than, a few weeks?

We must be prepared for the long haul and we must to innovate quickly. Innovate to survive really. We have been in communication with other chambers about their responses and sharing ideas, we need to take that conversation one step further and discuss how our small Pacific island economies may be able to support each other. We face similar challenges of geographic isolation, small populations, scalability etc so coming together and looking at opportunities as a collective should be the next conversation.

Despite the never-ending list of negative impacts that this pandemic has brought about, what opportunities are there for businesses that can arise from this situation?

Resilience & Self-Sustainability. The opportunity I see is in rethinking our national development policies & strategy to develop a economy and society that is more resilient & sustainable. Diversifying and broadening our economic base by focusing on sectors such as agriculture will mean in the long term we can develop better food security & self-sustainability. Less reliance on imported food such as rice and more consumption on locally grown produce. It will make our economy more robust and less vulnerable to global shocks in the marketplace as even though our impacts such as pandemics as we see people will always need to eat. It will also mean we will be able to manage fluctuations on commodities prices in the world market. Government-led policy in such sectors will open up investment opportunities for private sector to invest for domestic consumption & export.Reduce reliance on imports & improve resilience. Win-win.

To keep up to date with the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce & Industry, check out their website here.