Collective personal responsibility going forward.
This was the phrase coined by Members of Parliament in the Lower House last Tuesday before approving a motion to remove the final piece of COVID-19 regulation, amidst a gradual but steady increase in virus cases on the island since the removal of the State of Emergency last month.
Governor-General Dame Cecile La Grenade on April 4 revoked the declaration of the State of Emergency, which was proclaimed on January 11, 2021.
However, since then the Ministry of Health has recorded a gradual and steady increase in the COVID-19 test positivity rate, which currently stands at 23.5%.
A total of 270 new COVID-19 cases were recorded last Monday, bringing the total number of active cases to 1, 045, while the country’s vaccination rate continues to remain low, with 38, 245 (33.8%) of the population fully vaccinated, 5, 250 (4.6%) have only taken one (1) dose of the vaccine and the administration of 6, 384 (5.6%) booster doses so far.
The motion to repeal the COVID-19 regulations under the Quarantine Act, which mandated quarantine requirements upon arrival at the port of entry for unvaccinated individuals was presented to the Lower House by the Leader of Government Business, and Finance Minister, Gregory Bowen.
In his contribution, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell expressed concern over the increase in COVID-19 cases, and the low vaccination rate, noting that some have dropped their guard, and “not adhering to fundamental methods of protecting ourselves.”
Although he supported the removal of restrictions at this time, PM Mitchell warned that “if we have major sets (of) hospital data coming in, we may have to come back here and reintroduce all the restrictions.”
“…I don’t want to do this, especially given a certain decision that I have to make soon. I don’t want to do it because of the implications…we really need this to move past the serious issues that would affect our economic situation…,” he said.
Head of government’s COVID-19 Sub-committee, which serves as an advisory body to the Cabinet, Member of Parliament for St. Patrick West, backbencher Anthony Boatswain also contributed to the debate by expressing the view that the removal of the restrictions is a “move in the right direction” to allow the economy to grow.
“…At least we can give more breathing space so our economy can generate that revenue. When I look at the cost-benefit analysis, I think it is more beneficial we move in the direction that we are moving now but at the same time I am imploring the government (and) Social Partners that we must demonstrate greater collective responsibility in this regard” he said.
The former finance Minister cited social and economic issues that the government has to contend with including the pension liability that must be met.
“It has been said by the Prime Minister that we are looking at arrears in pension payments of over EC$400 million but even more critical was when he made the point that in going forward the financial liabilities that would be incurred of over EC$100 million on an ongoing basis even for the next 10, 20 years… to generate that type of revenue to meet that extra liability imposed by the pension payment.
Moving forward our economy must grow by 5%…the CBI programme may come to an end sooner than we think and that NTF (National Transformation Fund) will no longer be a source of revenue, and we will have to grow the economy at a much higher rate…and, that is why I support the idea that we cannot make ourselves victims of this virus – we have to live with it because we have to look at the bigger picture.”
Boatswain also told Parliament: “People being sick has implications as well for the resources of our country, and I am saying that in moving forward, where we have to generate an additional EC$100m (annually) to meet that kind of obligation (pension for public workers), we have to take all the necessary measures now to ensure that we put the economy on a sustainable development path.
If we maintain those restrictions, even psychologically it will be contracting our economy, we will not be able to generate revenue to meet fiscal commitments, and we will be worse off…so, let us not take it lightly… we could find ourselves in an even more serious situation if we are careless…,” he said.
Boatswain also touched on the staging of political rallies, and pre-carnival events, acknowledging them as mass gathering events that can provide an avenue for the virus to spread.
“…I hope I am getting my message across…we have to open up but it must be within the confines of being more responsible in our behavior,” he said, while alluding to the preparations in play to stage the premier carnival event in August after a 2- year hiatus.
Adding his voice to the pension argument, was Minister Bowen, who is also the MP for St. George South East who noted that “there were periods before when we were facing stark disaster, economic disaster, whether we were pushed or whether we recognised, and made our correct decision… and we came out from one (1) position into a position where we can.”
The Number Two man in the NNP informed the Lower House that “the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have agreed to provide the technical assistance to model how Grenada should go forward after doing an analysis of Anguilla and Grenada.
He said: “…Surprisingly Mr. Speaker it has shown that Ivan, nearly 20 years ago, we have not recovered (that we are) far from recovery (and) they are proposing that we augment all the regulations and activities that we have put in place to grow the economy…we are faced with two economic shocks, the pandemic, and now with that fiscal liability that’s facing us because of the pension court ruling, and so, we must work collectively together.”
“We cannot push regulations (and) results of court actions only, we all must collectively work, give and take, otherwise, the Ivan that we have not recovered from although we were climbing, with all the economic shocks facing us, we will now sink – it will be an immediate decline,” he added.
The Finance Minister emphasised that “we must collectively continue to work together to do what we have to do without being forced to do so because if we have learned from one situation before, and if we continue to build on this, we will be able to take care of other situations.”
The NNP regime is facing one of its stiffest financial challenges in recent years to find just under half-a-billion dollars to honour a judgement from the high court on pension payments due to public officers over the past 39 years.