St. Vincent and the Grenadines will need, among other things, to vaccinate 90% of its population 12 years and older to get the economy “back to a level of normalcy,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in his independence address on Wednesday.
“If we do not achieve this level of vaccination and a corresponding economic recovery, the government would be unlikely to meet its monthly commitments, including the payment of salaries, wages, and pensions,” he said in a media address, the annual independence parade having been cancelled because of a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“It is as simple as that! I know the arithmetic; believe me please: This is not scaremongering. I have never done that; and I will not do that,” said Gonsalves, who has been prime minister for 20 years.
The address comes at a time when the country has administered 43,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines amidst an uptake in the face of an increased number of cases and skyrocketing deaths since September.
The government has further set Nov. 19 as the date by which a wide cross-section of government workers must vaccinate if they are to remain in their post, unless they can obtain an exemption on medical or religious grounds.
As of Wednesday, Independence Day, SVG had recorded 4,941 cases of COVID-19 — 3,085 of whom had recovered.
COVID-19 has been blamed for 65 deaths — 53 of which have occurred since Sept. 9.
At the same time, the country has administered 43,963 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, representing 26,208 first doses and 17,755 second doses.
The prime minister said that on the fiscal front, the government has been able to navigate the twin-disasters of COVID and the volcanic eruptions on account of seven factors.
These included the pursuance of a “Fiscal Responsibility Framework” articulated and published before the pandemic; monies from the Contingency Fund; and, the government’s decision to place a US$20 million soft-loan from the World Bank (International Development Association—IDA—mechanism) in the Catastrophic Deferred-Draw-Down Option (CAT-DDO) instead of spending it in election year 2020.
Gonsalves said there was a windfall of revenues of over $60 million from private property transactions on Mustique and a reasonable level of grants and supports in 2020 and 2021 from regional and global sources.
He spoke of a relative economic sustainability, in the extremely difficult circumstances, as a consequence of the government’s decisions during the pandemic, including keeping the borders open.
Another contributing factor was “the resilience, good sense, and especial efforts of the majority of our people, at home and abroad, to lift SVG higher, despite the divisive pull-down attitude and actions of a recalcitrant minority,” the prime minister said.
Gonsalves said that over the next 18 months, there might not be the same level of fiscal cushions.
“The size of the Contingencies Fund will be less — the draw-downs monthly currently exceed the replenishments; there is unlikely to be a revenue windfall from Mustique of a similar magnitude, or at all; grants are likely to be less; and the CAT-DDO monies will be all exhausted, although we may be able to secure some substitute funds from the World Bank but less flexible, and less prompt, in their use.”
The prime minister said he felt sure “that our people will respond sensibly, responsibly, and with greater urgency than before.
“So, I am optimistic about our immediate future, and the years beyond. We are possessed of the possibilities and strengths to advance creatively and meaningfully towards a sustainable development.
“It is all up to us or at least the vast majority of us who truly grasp the challenges of the real world, a world not of fanciful imaginings or of self-deceptions, but the real world which we must face truthfully and with full commitment.”