$7m Emergency Package
At the Wednesday sitting of the Niue Assembly, most of the session was taken up with the debate of the Government’s Supplementary Budget 2020 to deal with the Covid 19 pandemic. $7m was appropriated by the Assembly as follows:
A total of $50,000 has been allocated to meet the cost for the repatriation and isolation of returning residents and other essential personnel. The funds are to meet the cost for the accommodation which will likely remain with Matavai.
After a lengthy and often confusing debate, members finally agreed to increase the appropriation for the Health Department from $630,000 to $1 million. The confusion arose when Common Roll member O’love Jacobsen alerted the House to the fact that the Assembly does not have the authority to increase a vote item without the approval of the Minister of Finanace. By this stage of the debate the Minister of Finance Sir Toke Talagi had left the proceedings. However Minister Billy Talagi was able to advise members that before the Premier left the chambers he had agreed to the increase. The $1 million is to be used by the department for the acquisition of personal protection equipment, medical supplies and the provision of emergency facilities.
The largest allocation of funding is earmarked for the Private Sector at $1.85 million. Businesses affected by the pandemic will be able to apply for some relief from the funding.
One of the most interesting allocations in the Budget comes under the heading of Vulnerable. $100,000 is available although t is not entirely clear who qualifies for assistance.
Food Security gets a boost of $550,000 to be administered jointly by The Treasury and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. According to Minister Billy Talagi one sector that could find some relief would be the boat fishermen in terms of an adjustment to fuel costs. He did warn however that the expectation is that there will also be an adjustment to the cost of local fresh fish.
The island’s premier tourist accommodation Matavai has access to $600,000. To ensure that utilities such as water and electricity continue unabated the government has allocated $470,000. The island’s bankers The Niue Development Bank will receive help to the tune of $600,000. Government departments were originally to receive a prop-up of $1.6 million but that was reduced to $1.23 million in favour of boosting the allocation for Health. A discretionary fund of $150,000 is available along similar lines as a soft loan.
Niue Tourism will receive a total of $300,000.
In the course of the debate it was clear that more work will be needed in the coming weeks to define clearly how some of the budget items are to be administered particularly those of a discretionary nature. One contentious issue in the past has been the overtime worked by essential staff. Government ministers gave an assurance in the House that essential workers will be paid overtime instead of taking time off.
As a result of the supplementary appropriation, the government’s total budget for 2019-2020 has increased from $28 million to $35 million. The additional $7 million is made up of $3 million from New Zealand, $3 million from Australia and $1 million from the government.