Finance Minister Colm Imbert

Finance Minister Colm Imbert

THE Government has spent some $934 million on Covid-19 relief programmes to date and expects to spend near $6 billion by the end of September.

This information was disclosed yesterday by Finance Minister Colm Imbert who spoke at the daily virtual Covid-19 news conference hosted by the Ministry of Health.

Imbert noted the various support programmes the Government has implemented to aid citizens who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

This includes food card support, rental assistance grants and income support for those who lost jobs, among other initiatives.

“Government has already spent $934 million up to yesterday on Covid relief,” Imbert revealed.

The Government’s projected expenditure includes a $300 million loan programme to provide support for small and medium businesses.

The loans are to be provided through First Citizens bank and the Government will subsidise all the interest and part of the collateral, Imbert said, adding that more details on this initiative will be given next week.

However, Imbert said though small and medium enterprises are most vulnerable at this time, some of the requests the ministry has received from these businesses have been “quite unreasonable”.

“There was a request that we should waive taxes. If we waive taxes, we would have no money to provide relief. Money doesn’t grow on trees,” he said.

“We’ve been asked to waive water rates. WASA is already struggling every month. It depends on a subsidy from the Government of $200 million a month. That’s what we give to WASA because the cost of running our water supply system and the income that comes in — there is a deficit every year of over $2 billion.

“So can you imagine if we said we will stop collecting water rates what that will do? That means more money will have to come from the Treasury to support WASA because the cost remains the same,” he said.

Imbert said there have also been requests for the Government to waive electricity bills, but this cannot be done as the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) is already subsidised to the tune of over $500 million per year.

“If we were to forego water rates, forego electricity rates, that just means that the Treasury will have to put out more,” he said.

Imbert said, additionally, $700 million in outstanding VAT refunds has been paid in cash with another $3 billion to be paid in VAT bonds, which is expected to start this week.

Caribbean Airlines will also receive support from the Government.

“As you will realise, Caribbean Airlines is earning no money at this point in time, so that we have secured US$65 million (TT$442 million) to assist Caribbean Airlines,” he disclosed.

A total of $100 million is to be made available to the membership of some 20 credit unions which Imbert said will allow credit union members to access loans at a significantly reduced interest rate of around three per cent.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health is also receiving significant funding to battle Covid-19.

“The Ministry of Health so far has spent $55 million,” Imbert said.

“We expect them to spend somewhere in the vicinity of $137 million, and this is not an easily determinable figure because if, for example, there would be an increase in the number of cases, God forbid, then the Ministry of Health would have to spend some more money.

“In addition, if a decision is taken or if it is possible for university students to come back to Trinidad and Tobago, they would have to be quarantined and that’s an expense on the Ministry of Health.

“So we have an additional provision for the Ministry of Health of $250 million. We expect their actual expenditure to be $137 million plus $250 million. We are giving the Ministry of Health every cent they need to cope with the pandemic.”

Imbert said despite the high cost of battling the virus, he is confident the country’s economy will recover.

“We’ve done projections up to 2023. We’ve looked at all the sources of funding available to cover our projected budget deficits going forward up to 2023 and our debt servicing and we are satisfied that on a proper examination of all that is available, that there is more than adequate financing available,” Imbert said.