Oct 07, 2020 Editorial
Kaieteur News – Yesterday, Guyana recorded our 95th death from COVID-19. It is not unreasonable to expect that by the end of the week, we will pass the significant threshold of 100 fatalities from this disease. In a projection undertaken by Kaieteur News staffer Kemol King three weeks ago, by October 22, deaths will stand at 120 – we seem well underway to reaching that projection, perhaps even surpassing it.
Meanwhile, the numbers of infections continue to escalate and globally, there seems to be no subsiding of the infection rates. No one is safe, as the events of the past week in the United States show, with President Donald Trump and several of his staffers in the White House becoming infected. There is no argument left to be made about how serious this disease is.
Fighting back on COVID-19 itself and the impact of COVID-19 has to be done on two fundamental and interlocking pillars – epidemiology and economy. We cannot separate one from the other in that if we do not get the epidemiology right, the economy is going to be severely weakened and possibly shattered, while if we do not make sound economic decisions in our epidemiological response to this disease, its spread can be exacerbated exponentially.
The new government is perhaps cautious in the latter department considering the incompetence, wastage and corruption of its predecessor in the initial months of the pandemic, between the theater of applying for external aid and covering up the refusal of the applications, and the graft involved in the construction of what was sold as a COVID-19 hospital at the converted and near derelict Ocean View Hotel, done at a cost of $1.6 billion of taxpayer money. Still, now is not the time for vacillation when it comes to effective COVID-spending.
When the new government came into power, the faucet of international aid that was turned to a trickle during the period when the Granger administration was seeking to hijack the elections, was set to gush forth some US$60 million under the newly installed Ali regime. Now, while we welcome every single dollar sensibly and sustainably offered in helping us to weather the storm that is the pandemic, to do so exclusively, particular when it comes to committing ourselves to loans, even as we have access to a considerable source of self-funding, makes no sense.
So far, we have close to US$150 million in the Natural Resources Fund (NRF), sitting comfortably in a bank account in New York. The government has so far said that it will not touch the NRF until certain reforms are put in place. Considering what is currently at stake, we believe that this is no longer an option and provides a skewed perspective on national priorities at this time. Whatever reforms need to take place in the Natural Resource Fund legislation should be geared towards giving government access as quickly as possible to monies there at a time when we need it the most.
As is, the NRF Act, its shortcomings notwithstanding, prescribes conditions and circumstances for expenditure. Section 27, for example, deals with using funds for Emergency Financing , and while it speaks to the triggering condition being “the occurrence of a major natural disaster”, which refers technically to geologic phenomena such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes et cetera, surely a global pandemic that has killed close to a 100 citizens and counting classifies as an ‘emergency’. And we say this considering that the shutdown has had a greater impact on the country than any comparable natural disaster Guyana has ever faced, including notably the Great Flood of 2005. The Act also speaks at great length on what constitutes a feasible investment or not, prescribing rules on fiscal and economic sustainability – we submit that there can be no sounder, no more sustainable investment of the monies of the Natural Resource Fund than in the citizens of Guyana in the midst of crisis. A fraction, and it is necessarily a fraction, of the current amount would go a far way in helping us to fight this disease, from the provision of proper allowances and PPEs to our frontline workers now engaged in protest action, to an expansion of the public assistance funding being made by government. There is the old saying that ‘Charity begins at home’ – it is time that actions are taken to begin channeling the proceeds of our patrimony, the monies in the NRF, home to serve the interests of Guyanese in our time of need.
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