(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s Presentation on the Debate of Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure)
The Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure sets out what we are going to do throughout the course of the year in terms of programs that the government intends to implement and how those will be financed; to make judgement about what it indicates as to the government’s priorities or lack thereof. That is the nature of the exercise, but we are doing it in unprecedented time.
The context for the debate has to be framed for us to understand what we mean when we talk about unprecedented time. We know of the COVID-19 pandemic which has been affecting life and livelihoods all over the world. We haven’t been excused or let off the hook. Although at some point and time there were those who may have thought that we have dodged the bullet, that somehow the same way the hurricanes have past north or south of us, that maybe COVID- 19 took the same track but realized it was just either foolishness or wishful thinking.
Today, as I read the news report, there were 35 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A few weeks ago, this would have been a calamity on everybody’s lips now it seems as a relief that it’s not 55 or 60 but in the meantime the number grows. We are told that all the cases were detected during tracing or testing at the flu clinics.
I remember there was a time; when the Chief Medical Officer used to say if you think you have COVID don’t move we will come for you. Now they are saying go to a clinic and get tested. There are now 657 local cases, 631 active cases, 798 cases in total and more worrying, two (2) people have died. What is of greatest concern, is the rate of increase that we have experienced over the past three weeks.
There is nothing that is more important to us economically, socially and in terms of our public health than dealing with this crisis. We are indeed in unprecedented times. With covid-19 exploding and La Soufriere threating to explode, right now it is erupting in a non-destructive but still a worrying way. Our people are nervous. They need reassurance that we can come out of this mess with hope and look boldly to the future.
These Estimates and the budget that will follow should be the blue print for the way into that future and we shouldn’t just be thinking of mere survival or riding out the storm and then go back to business as usual. All over the world, people of all walks of life, economists, spiritualists, philosophers, religious people and ordinary folk look at what we are going through and are saying that this is a test with lessons from it and the silver lining that you can find should not go to waste. We should look at it as an opportunity to think of ways in which we can do things better, more effectively; not just to prepare for the next pandemic or the next crisis but to prepare our economy to be more productive, to create jobs for our young people, to create a better life for all of us. It is terrible that we have to be here today jumping through hoops making all kinds of accommodations and changes to avoid making the situation with COVID -19 worse and to set an example for the nation. But we shouldn’t be here; we shouldn’t be at this point.
Notwithstanding the answer that was given to my question this morning by the Minister of Health, when I asked if they had dropped the ball, to say that it is happening elsewhere does not mean we have to look at the worse examples to copy. We should look at who is doing the best and try to emulate it.
Where do we go from here? The Estimates are supposed to point the way to the future but sadly they do not. Desperate times require bold actions. It requires us to do things differently. This crisis tests our resilience but it requires honesty from all of us in public life. That is how we build trust and that is how we instill that assurance within the people that we will get through this and we will be better off at the end. When a crisis strikes and we are threatened by two (2). We are in one (1) now with COVID- 19 and La Soufriere threatens. In a crisis, all lies and pretense are exposed by the exigencies of the circumstances and by the requirement for effective meaningful action to remedy the situation. You can’t fake it, when lives and livelihoods are on the line. It is clear to see that this problem of COVID-19 is the biggest problem that we have in every aspect of our lives.
What is in the Estimates? Inside: the pretense, the dishonesty and the fake numbers continue. It’s something we have spoken about over and over. The problem continues because to some, it’s not a big deal.
We have a budget of $1.2 billion this year. The Minister said that it was a bit bigger than what was approved last year. In reality, the revised Estimates last year was $1,343,414,746. It was revised upward. So, we are spending less, $131 million less than that $1.34 billion that the Estimates was revised to last year. The government proposes to spend less in 2021, than it did in 2020. If we go by what is projected now by the expenditures and what was in the revised Estimates for 2020. So that’s the government’s plan. It will spend almost 10 % less than it did last year. Assuming that the government can raise that money, the $1.2 billion that it intends to spend which we know it can’t. The fact that it intends to spend less suggests that we have reverted to the pre COVID fiscal posture. Is the crisis over?