By Loshaun Dixon
About $80M of the $120M stimulus package, announced to offset the financial impact of COVID-19, has been spent, according to Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Timothy Harris.
Dr. Harris made this statement at the Leadership Matters forum. He said that since the announcement of the package in March, some 66% of it has been expended.
“Since we have unveiled our stimulus package, we have in fact had the benefit of nigh $80M of that amount already expended through the government and various public sector entities that have been part and parcel of this process.”
He said that excluded from the calculation, was the significant number of people who would have benefited from the mortgage moratorium arrangements.
Dr. Harris said the government will continue to bring an institutional and people response to the crisis.
“To contain the destabilizing effect of COVID-19, we announced the largest, most comprehensive response, on a per capita basis, to COVID-19. To mitigate the impact on our people, we announced a $1000 grant by Social Security, waived water charges for three months in the first instance, instituted a moratorium on electricity bills for three months, a moratorium on mortgage payments for six months, and we put the people first.
The prime minister reminded them that in the medium and long term, the government will prioritize agriculture in the crop, livestock and fisheries sectors.
“Our interest then and now is maintaining food security and improving on it, and enhancing income flows to our farmers and fishers. Since that time, we can say that 135 acres of land have been made available from the 400 acres which we redeemed from the land-for-debt swap arrangement.”
He said farmers have benefited from the free Bayticol treatment of animals, fencing wires, seeds and seedlings, and free harrowing services.
“We harrowed over 120 acres of land, fenced many farms, provided seeds and seedlings free of cost to over 90 farmers. Over 900 trays of sweet peppers have been provided free of cost, 96 trays of melons and 192 trays of squash have been distributed to farmers.”
In fisheries, he said fishers have and will continue to receive fishing wire, hooks rope, fish straps, fishing line and safety equipment.
Dr. Harris also noted that the government aimed to use construction as a jump start to the economy.
“We also announced that for the medium term, we would want to jump start construction, and in this regard we pledged $30M to support those interested in home financing, via the aegis of the Development Bank.”
He said they pledged in March to provide support to small businesses via the Fresh Start Programme, with a tranche of $5M, and are looking to provide support in many different areas.
“The other areas we are looking forward to helping in the jump starting of our economy will include ICTs, our CBI programme, the financial services sector – all these we wish to become more effective as growth drivers, and they will be the subject of dialogue with critical stakeholders, including the Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
“Before the start of COVID-19 we had started that dialogue with the chamber of industry and commerce, the banking and financial stakeholders, and we will widen the consultations and discussions to involve the workers’ movement in the near future.”
He also hailed Social Security for the role they played in the COVID-19 response and national development.
“We are delighted that Social Security has come on board. Social security has played a critical role in housing development and education support through the development bank and other institutions, and indeed it has over time supported the development of our economic infrastructure.
“We now need social security to be a part of a new sizable resource mobilization programme to get our economy back to work again.”
Dr Harris was also pleased that commercial banks took the recommendation from the ECCB monetary council to grant a six months moratorium on all mortgages.
“I am advised there were 2,531 beneficiaries of the deferral relief or moratorium programme across member institutions. I am further advised deferrals were provided on over $258M in mortgages. This has been a significant relief.”