Trinidad's Prime Minister Keith Rowley. (FILE)
PORT OF SPAIN – The Trinidad and Tobago government Monday announced a multi-billion dollar package, including a TT$1 500 monthly payment to unemployed people for the next three months, as the twin island republic deals with the economic impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Minister of Finance Colm Imbert, speaking at a news conference at which it was disclosed that the number of people testing positive for the virus had reached 51, said that the government would also be making significant amounts of money available for the payment of Value Added Tax (VAT) and Income Tax refunds.
He said the Keith Rowley government would be looking at various avenues for funding the initiative, seeking support from the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as well as the Andean Development Bank (CAF).
Imbert said that apart from these financial institutions, Port of Spain will also look ttowards loan financing on the international market from large entities such as Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Bank of America, and JP Morgan.
He said the fourth source of funding will be “both foreign currency, US dollars because there are large deposits of US dollars in the local banking system over three billion dollars . . . [and] there is quite a bit of US dollars available in the local banking system and Trinidad and Tobago dollars of course”.
“So that we are going to use a mix of approaches. We are going to tap into all these sources to fund this programme,” Imbert said, estimating that "the overall cost of everything, right now as the way the price of oil has collapsed, natural gas has collapsed and also reduction in business activity that must occur . . . we estimated that we may have to have budgetary financing . . . of somewhere between $6 billion and $7 billion."
Imbert said that the government would need an estimated TT$400 million to finance the unemployment salary relief programme, as well as TT$390 million to meet the VAT and Income Tax refund payments. In addition, the government has indicated its willingness to fund a TT$100 million Liquidity Support programme for credit unions for lending to their members.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh expressed disappointment at some people, who were still flouting regulations regarding social distancing.
He told reporters that the government had to close down a private pre-school in the west of the country on Monday after the principal had sent letters to parents indicating that the facility was open for business.
Deyalsingh said the army had to be called out for 40 patients at the Couva Hospital, who were among 71 people who had gone on a cruise ship tour, and later tested positive for the virus.
He said those patients were refusing to obey the laws regarding their isolation and that they were also violating the various zones established to keep them away from the public.
Deyalsingh said he was also warning people against sending their blood samples to private laboratories for “rapid testing” noting that they were capable of receiving false results and urged that only the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) be used.
“Private institutions feel they have different rules for them, there is one rule for all,” Deyalsingh said.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who also participated in the news conference, warned Trinidad and Tobago to be prepared for an increased number of COVID-19 cases in the near future.
“So far I have not been informed that there has been any deaths from the virus or that we have had any community spread, but we are not immune to that. It is an evolving situation, so let us be prepared and be ready in the event our turn comes and we have to report community spread."