Rising stronger from the ashes of COVID-19: Part 3

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Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves

By Caribbean News Global contributor

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent — In the final of a three-part series that covered healthcare, socio-economic and national security measures to inhibit COVID-19, and a stimulus package of $74.05 million, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves examines projected revenues and citizen security.

In part two, prime minister Gonsalves said:”Clearly, the existing Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2020 and the corresponding Appropriation Bill which were approved in January this year will require careful re-calibration in the implementation of both the revenue and expenditure estimates, recurrent and capital; the capital estimates for 2020 were set at $310 million.

Projected revenues

It is self-evident that projected revenues will decline substantially, the full extent of that decline, and over which time-period, are not yet calculable, given the range of uncertainties. So, there has to be a reprioritisation of expenditure to meet the unfolding realities globally, regionally, and nationally; this exercise is ongoing. Over the medium-term, our fiscal condition will be consolidated as the anticipated economic recovery takes root. I am encouraged that both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have jointly issued a call [today] for debt relief for IDA countries like St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The overall stimulus and socio-economic recovery package is significant. As the global economy recovers, the economy of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the rest of the region, must be in a position to lift off and expand. Still, we are mindful that even before the expiration of the threat of COVID-19 and its hubris, the 2020 hurricane season would be upon us. This makes the overall situation even more challenging, awash with downside risks.

Our region’s premier financial institution, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), is currently preparing a package of financial support for its member-countries. I await expectantly the CDB’s offered package. In this regard, regional provision has to be made for LIAT, so vital for our region’s progress. On these matters, I have already been in conversation with the president of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

The health, learning, and happiness of our children at the time of COVID-19

With our primary and secondary school students on their Easter holidays at this challenging time the ministries of education, health, sports, and social development are paying special attention to these students’ health, learning and happiness.

The ministry of education in concert with teachers and, in partnership with Digicel are delivering on-line revision classes to students who are preparing for their CXC examinations this year. Further, in light of the disruptions caused by COVID-19, our ministry of education is advocating an option for the CXC examinations to be postponed to July.

Similarly, the ministry of education is actively pursuing plans to deliver revision classes, too, on an on-line platform for the CPEA which is a regional examination conducted also by CXC. Consideration for a postponement of the CPEA exams is also being pursued.

St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College is examining various modalities to keep its students engaged in their ongoing learning process.

The ministry of health and sports are promoting healthy recreational exercises for our students who are on holidays but in a manner which respects the requisite for personal or social distancing. These recreational exercises include walks and hikes in spaces which are not much populated. The ministry of health is advising the children and young persons to restrict or avoid, if practicable, contact with the elderly persons, grandparents and the like, especially those who have an ailment or not-so-healthy physical condition.

The ministry of social development, through its outreach initiatives, is paying especially close attention to the social condition of children and their families at this time of COVID-19 with a view to strengthening the social safety net. The social support elements in the socio-economic and stimulus package will undoubtedly assist in this regard.

Most importantly, the individual families, the communities, the churches, social organisations and the media, can be creative in helping to build further a climate for our children and young persons’ health, safety, learning, and happiness.

Citizen Security at the time of COVID-19

Social and economic dislocation invariably presents opportunities for certain persons with a selfish or lawless disposition — a small minority to disrupt or undermine the peaceful enjoyment of the lives, living, and property of the vast majority of our people. The Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force and the security apparatus of the State are alive to this matter and having been activating plans to strengthen citizen security.

Tried and tested modes of policing, including community policing, are being emphasized. And shortly more police boots will be on the ground with the release from the training of over 100 police recruits. Video surveillance is being increased and so, too, intelligence gathering.  In this period, special attention is being paid to crimes against property, including praedial larceny.

In respect of the Prisons, visit restrictions have been put in place for family members of prisoners and others. The police force, the coast guard, immigration, customs, and port authorities are coordinating their work to ensure that our border security is enhanced. Our interface with the Regional Security System, the Implementation Agency for CARICOM States (IMPACS), and our external security partners are quite helpful in this regard.

I am keeping under constant review of our security situation, especially at this time. Any immediate, significant threat, additionally, to our citizen security would be met with further appropriate actions. I give that solemn assurance. Indeed, our government has already been firm on those who break a voluntary quarantine.

Whenever a person acts irresponsibly in this regard, he or she is taken to the Law Courts and compulsorily quarantined with a specific legal sanction and under the security of the police. Indeed, four such quarantine orders were sought of, and obtained from, the Law Courts today. And this is not the first time that the legal powers of the State have been so exercised in such circumstances. If you are quarantined, you stay in quarantine; this is a serious matter.

I know that in several countries in our Caribbean there have been total shut-downs, partial shut-downs, a declaration of an entire country as a disaster area, and declarations of states of emergency. Some other Caribbean countries have adopted the broad approach of incremental measures for lower risks, accelerated measures for more heightened risks, as we have done in St Vincent and the Grenadines, in accordance with all the circumstances.

However, make no mistake, if in an altered condition of this shifting maze of COVID-19, that it is deemed necessary and desirable to adopt the most extreme measures legally permissible, my government will act accordingly.

This brings me to the issue of public transportation on minibuses. I am strongly advising minibus operators to be very sensitive to the matter of over-crowding on these buses and cease it forthwith. Further, these minibuses must be sanitized and cleaned on an ongoing basis to militate against the possibility of spreading the virus.

Passengers must also act sensibly to protect themselves given the requisite of personal or social distancing and the practice of good hygiene in the fight against COVID-19.

Conclusion

As I conclude, I reiterate that an inter-connected, monumental challenge faces us with its health, economic, social, and security elements.  I have outlined the measures which our government has taken thus far, and those which we propose to take, including the socio-economic recovery and stimulus package.

Throughout this difficult, testing and complex time of COVID-19, I have sought to remain calm, resolute, and focused on providing leadership without succumbing to panic, hysteria, and futile histrionics.

But, to mix my metaphor, we are not out of the woods as yet!  There are going to be some very rocky roads to travel; we are going to have some very tough days in all the changing scenes of life driven by COVID-19 and more; some of our best-laid plans may have to be revised and altered, by choice or circumstances; but through it all, I am confident that we as a nation shall triumph over all the pain and suffering, the hardships and challenges, with God’s help and over combined efforts.

I am mindful that as I speak to you, many of you are hurting from your current condition, anxious about your future and that of your children and families, fearful of the dreaded COVID-19, and worried whether or not we are managing well the composite risks touching upon health, the economic, the social, and our security. Your hurt, anxiety, fear, and worry are understandable but we must be calm, focused, and confident that in our unity and solidarity, and with God’s amazing grace, we will not be defeated individually and collectively.

I acknowledge that many across our land and seas ponder on the age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people?  This is the central query of the indomitable Job who lost so much but who, after a personal disaster, persevered, prospered abundantly again, and was redeemed gloriously.

COVID-19 has come upon us at a time when many of us or our loved ones are experiencing already a debilitating or potentially debilitating disease.  We must not lose hope or faith. That which is debilitating or potentially so, plus Covid-19, must not be allowed to induce in us a sense of agitated helplessness; these challenges must be met with patience and a calm, knowing that sun brightens stone, that our Redeemer lives, and that we are especially resourceful at the very time of looming danger, be it individual, familial or national.

When the dust of COVID-19, its consequences, and its aftermath are settled, in our looking back it is my hope that we will honestly conclude that the best in us came out.  I know that in the complexities of life and living, out of some will come the worst but out of many will come the best. I feel sure, though, our collective best will emerge and we will rise stronger from the feverish ashes of COVID-19; stronger than ever to strive, to seek, to find but never to yield.

Morning by morning, new mercies we see; all that we need his hand provideth; great is his faithfulness.

Related:

Rising stronger from the ashes of COVID-19: Part 1

Rising stronger from the ashes of COVID-19: Part 2

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