Clint Chan Tack
WHAT new economic measures will Government bring to help people whose livelihoods continue to be adversely affected by the covid19 pandemic?
At a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre on May 7, the Prime Minister said Finance Minister Colm Imbert will provide those details on Monday. At a briefing on May 3, Dr Rowley said a sum between $40 million – $50million is being finalised to assist those impacted by the latest covid19 restrictions.
Last May, Imbert said Government was projecting a total expenditure of $6 billion on covid19 relief and other needs between then and September. At that time, he said $934 million had been spent to date on covid19 relief.
Former government ministers Winston Dookeran and Vasant Bharath, members of the Roadmap to Recovery Committee established last year to develop strategies to deal with economic fallout from the pandemic, gave their views on Saturday about what kind of relief measures could be considered by Government.
Dookeran said, “On funding covid19, there are three components, support for economic activity and the vaccination programme.”
He said, “The public policy response to sustain economic and social life is to lower interest rates and make payouts to groups in the society that are affected by the loss of income.” On the vaccination programme, Dookeran continued, “So far, there is reliance on donors and the Covax facility of the WHO.
“The additional expenditure to adjust and keep the health care system function came from the Consolidated Fund, via additional borrowing and a drawdown of the Heritage and Stabilization Fund (HSF).”
Dookeran explained an approach is needed that opens the door to external funding support.
“We must hold discussions with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to access the additional support windows now available through the Special Drawing Rights , for which TT qualifies for access.
“This will also assist in accessing covid19 funding via the IFI’s (International Financing Institutions).”
An article published this month by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies identified the IMF, World Bank and major regional development banks among the IFIs. The centre estimated that IFIs have approved $262.4 billion in covid19-related support through the first quarter of this year.
Bharath said, “Time to put aside the politics of divisiveness and rise to the challenge of putting country first.”
While he argued the vaccination programme could have been better handled, Bharath observed, “We are, however, dealing with an invisible enemy of enormous scale, overwhelming speed and with the capacity to morph almost instantaneously and clearly there is no blueprint for action.”
He added, “We are where we are and no amount of criticism or opposing for the sake of it will help.”
“Although the number-one priority must still remain the preservation of life, the Government must also place significant focus on maintaining livelihoods and promoting growth and economic activity going forward.”
Bharath was “very disappointed” by the reactions of many citizens to recent public restrictions announced by the Government to curb rising covid19 cases in TT.
He warned, “This could lead to even more stringent lock down measures in the near future heaping further unnecessary hardships on those who have been compliant.”
He was concerned that several recommendations made by the Roadmap to Recovery Committee have not been implemented.
“These recommendations would have served to kick-start economic growth in the construction, manufacturing and downstream energy sectors, grow more food and provide greater equity of access to the most vulnerable in our society.”
He suggested controlled and transparent drawdowns from the HSF; incentivising and encouraging the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector to play a greater role in revitalising the economy as examples of how covid19 relief measures could be financed.
In a statement on May 4, Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis said recommendations of the Roadmap to Recovery Committee are being implemented.
She said even before the advent of the committee, the Government moved to help vulnerable citizens who were most affected by the pandemic.
“Hence we increased the allocation for the social safety net programmes as appropriate and where necessary in 2020, with the expectation that the number of persons accessing the programmes would have increased; over $100 million was spent on covid19 relief in 2020 with approximately 400,000 beneficiaries.”
Robinson-Regis listed the implementation of safe back to work protocols and support to the private sector through financial assistance for companies and individuals to keep people in jobs were among the recommendations that have been implemented.
“Over 30,000 individuals and companies have benefitted to date in TT.”
Robinson-Regis said last month she chaired a review of the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) to discuss the status of this fiscal year’s projects and revise the plan of action going into the future with the effects of the pandemic at the fore.” She said, “Priority will continue to be placed on the health and well-being of citizens and residents during the pandemic by this Government, while simultaneously continuing the management of TT’s national development goals.”