ST JOHN’S, Antigua (CMC) – Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne has written to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank urging that the financial institutions agree to a number of initiatives aimed at assisting Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries deal with the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus (CVID19).
In his March 30 letter to IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank President David Malpass, Prime Minister Browne said that the COVID-19 pandemic would have a “calamitous” effect on the region.
He said the virus would have created both a public health and an economic emergency, “wreaking havoc globally but especially on poor states as well as small and vulnerable ones”.
Browne congratulated the two Washington-based financial institutions for their “swift measure” in proposing help for several countries, including those in the Caribbean grouped under the International Development Agency (IDA).
“We also draw to your attention that, apart from the huge, sudden and unbudgeted costs with which my Government and other Caribbean governments are confronting to tackle COVID-19 in our countries, we are also beleaguered by an unexpected economic decline that has already stripped us of more than 20 per cent of our GDP [gross domestic product] in some cases and the certain prospect of further and prolonged deterioration,” Browne wrote.
He said that several of the Caribbean countries are highly tourism dependent and the stoppage of airlines and cruise ships have “devastated our tourism industry.
“Hotels and other tourism facilities have been forced to close because of a loss of business as well as domestic measures to try to contain COVID-19 and to arrest its spread. The effect of this is a significant and unsustainable drop in government revenues, including foreign exchange, occurring simultaneously with demands for increased government spending to institute new health facilities and to provide such assistance as possible to families whose only money earner has been laid off”.
In his three-page letter, Browne noted also that the virus was impacting the region at a time when the Caribbean islands are preparing for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season and the possibility of at least three or four major hurricanes confronting the region.
“In the region’s already precarious state, the effects of a hurricane would be beyond catastrophic,” Browne said.
He urged the two financial institutions to consider in addition to their proposals to the G20 countries, the “suspension of per capita income as a criteria for concessional financing” as well as “debt relief including suspension of debt payments, write-offs of aged debt particularly by the Paris Club”.
Browne is also urging the IMF and the World Bank, who are due to meet later this month for their annual meetings to consider “budgetary support through a mix of grants and low-cost loans on a country by country basis”.
Browne has also written to the Caricom Secretariat urging it to release the contents of his letter to the regional leaders, and called on them to either support or back away from his letter to the IMF and the World Bank.