Finance Minister to finally spend more
Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke will be finally and belatedly making some adjustments to the inadequate $830 billion fiscal year 2021/2022 budget after predicating it on a whole lot of flawed assumptions related to the duration of the COVID-19 Pandemic; the exchange rate; inflation and global food, as well as energy prices.
The minister will be tabling the first supplementary estimates some time after Parliament resumes sittings on 14 September, after a long and undeserved recess. The minister says that these estimates will seek to pay some of the bills owed to the overworked, underpaid and under-employed members of the health sector as well as to buy some of the equipment needed to fight the deadly COVID-19 Pandemic.
He also stressed that some assistance will also be provided to the most vulnerable sections of the population who are breaking and dying under the weight of the pandemic; the income lost because of unemployment; the lockdowns and the irrational curfew hours, as well as the galloping food and energy prices.
We would, however, like to take this opportunity to tell the minister that he must also use the opportunity to provide more assistance to the export and import substitution sectors so that the country can reduce its reliance on the vulnerable tourism sector and remittances to generate the foreign exchange needed to run it while keeping the exchange rate stable and in line with the fundamentals of the economy. The US unemployment benefits from which most of the US$2.9 billion in remittances flowed last year will be terminated in September and the tourism sector is still vulnerable to the Delta and MU variants of the deadly COVID-19 virus and therefore the government must move swiftly to reduce our dependence on the sector, not to reinforce it. The assistance to the most vulnerable will have to be much more than the $189 million or $67.50 per capita he recently offered. More can be afforded because the fiscal deficit-difference between what the government spent and what it collected in revenues and grants was only $4.3 billion during the four-month period April to July of this fiscal year when it should have been $28.9 billion. Total revenues and grants were running at $17.3 billion more than budgeted for but the government spent only $229.8 billion, while it collected $225.5 billion.