Prime Minister Andrew Holness last night announced that Jamaica’s COVID-19 response has received a boost of more than $31 million from hotel mogul Gordon “Butch” Stewart, chairman of Sandals Resorts International.
Holness made the announcement in Gordon House, eliciting loud applause from both sides of the chamber.
The funds are a direct donation to the Jamaican people and the Government as the country, like so many others around the world, fights for economic recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last night, Sandals Resorts explained in a news release that Stewart will donate $500,000 to each of the island’s 63 constituencies. In consultation with Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips, each Member of Parliament will be responsible for the preparation and distribution of the care packages to those in need within all constituencies.
Commenting on this latest act of support, Stewart said he feels it is both his personal and corporate duty to provide the assistance during these unprecedented and extremely difficult times.
“Not only am I a proud Jamaican, born and raised in St Ann, I raised my family in Jamaica and the Sandals brand was born right here in Jamaica. The country is the heart and soul of our organisation, with the majority of our team members, approximately 9,000 of them, residing in Jamaican communities. It’s a responsibility my family and I do not take lightly, and this is just one step to do whatever possible to assist them and the most vulnerable in our communities during this time,” said Stewart, who is also chairman of the Jamaica Observer.
As more businesses falter under the negative impact of COVID-19 and more people face unemployment, Stewart said he has been motivated to continue his support.
“Unemployment numbers are rising, and the most at-risk among us are finding it hard to afford the basic necessities to support themselves and their families. We are in this together, which means this fight does not solely belong to the Government. It requires all hands on deck for a broad, multi-level approach, and calls for Government, the private sector, non-profit organisations and all Jamaicans to band together in the interest of the country and the well-being of its people. We must all play our part and give the support wherever we can, however we can, as one people,” he said.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the Sandals Group has rallied behind the Jamaican Government, offering the 52-room Sandals Carlyle Resort for use as a quarantine/isolation centre, donating digital hand-held thermal scanners to the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and offsetting transportation needs for health care workers in Western Jamaica.
The Sandals Foundation, the charitable arm of Sandals Resorts International, alongside the We Care for Cornwall Regional Hospital initiative, have together donated $20 million to the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica’s COVID-19 response.
Additionally, despite the temporary closure of all its resorts in Jamaica and across the region, Sandals has retained all team members at partial salary and with full health benefits and has provided individual care packages to each member of staff.
No stranger to playing his part in a national crisis, Stewart has a long track record of providing support and assistance during times of need. Among his most famous interventions is the 1992 Save the Dollar Campaign that sought to stabilise the Jamaican dollar during a period of rapid devaluation.
At the time, the currency was in free fall; cost of living was soaring and, with prices of basic food items increasing daily, Jamaicans were generally despondent. The campaign saw Stewart injecting US$1 million per week of his personal funds into the foreign exchange market at a rate of J$25 to US$1, six dollars lower than the then going rate of J$31 to US$1. These efforts successfully halted the rapid devaluation and resulted in the dollar stabilising at J$22.50 to US$1 for an extended period.
“We are a strong nation and a strong people,” Stewart said yesterday. “We can overcome this serious threat, but must continue to do our part, look ahead, and persevere. I want to tell all Jamaicans to stay strong, follow the guidelines of our health officials, and remain hopeful. And with everyone playing their part, I am confident the worst will soon be behind us.”
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