How did Trinidad and Tobago fare on covid19 spending?

In this April 29 photo, people line up outside the Social Welfare office in Chaguanas hoping to collect covid19 relief grants offered by Government. -
In this April 29 photo, people line up outside the Social Welfare office in Chaguanas hoping to collect covid19 relief grants offered by Government. -

Three things made the world reel this year: unprecedented political turmoil, a reckoning with the policing of race and, most devastatingly, a pandemic that literally brought everything to a halt.

More than a hundred people have died in this country from covid19. Thousands fell ill and now face an uncertain future: we are still getting to grips with the impact of the virus on long-term health.

They join millions who were infected all over the planet. The global death toll exceeds 1.7 million.

It has all birthed economic conditions not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Businesses have closed, employees have been sent home, entire economies disrupted.

While the “new normal” has generated talk of changing the economic paradigm, there is no gainsaying that an already tenuous economic situation has been made worse by global stagnation and profound uncertainties.

Wrangling this week by US lawmakers over the terms and conditions of a relief package is but a taste of the fraught international context.

So from one vantage point it might seem querulous to scrutinise just how effective our economic response to covid19 has been. After all, while there is no doubt business is suffering, things could have been worse. God is not quite a Trini, but we have fared a little better than some.

Or have we? If only to learn lessons from the year that was 2020, we should take a moment to reflect on the efficacy of the State’s spending on covid19. And we should be given the data to do so.

Efforts to flatten the curve plus the presence of assets that were repurposed to handle covid19 patients meant additional spending on the public health sector was contained: around $250 million was the mid-year projection (figures should be clarified in the first quarter of 2021).

However, the State was required to boost the entire system to the tune of about $6 billion – the deficit was pushed to a whopping $20 billion.

Relief included grants estimated at $400 million. Some fell under social programmes, others appeared to be ad-hoc payments (religious bodies received millions on faith).

Grants are difficult to administer due to abuse and fraud. There should been a review to examine whether money was misappropriated. Whispers of favouritism and patronage are only possible in the absence of transparency and when there is a lack of trust in the State.

Such a trust problem is not assisted by a legislative environment weak on regulation, be it public procurement or integrity in public life.

Have social assistance schemes worked? Have measures announced to assist businesses made a difference? Has budgetary policy meshed well with both social objectives?

In relation to the latter, the decision to tax apples and grapes as luxury items to help ease foreign-exchange woes seems one instance in which the response was tone-deaf.

In sum, the issue is whether the State has received value for money on covid19 spending. That’s a conversation worth having as we embark on another uncertain year.

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"How did Trinidad and Tobago fare on covid19 spending?"

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