By Machela Osagboro
As economists grapple with the tricky task of crafting appropriate economic responses to the commercial fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, the government of Antigua and Barbuda is faced with equipping the health sector to deal with the virus’s spread and devising strategies to stabilise the local economy.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne previously revealed that government has sought the assistance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and that by the end of April the country will see a 40 percent decrease in fiscal earnings, thereby driving the need to look to new avenues for economic development.
However, according to local economist, Cortwright Marshall, “it is possible to look at new industries that are critical to the development of a global community, but one of the first things we need to do in Antigua and Barbuda is to revisit the strategy for economic development and introduce a multi-sectorial growth and employment policy agenda, to make growth more inclusive and sustainable. We just have to be innovative and creative in terms of how we organise production; this is going to be critical”.
He called for a collective effort in exchanging ideas that will aid in developing strategies to guide the country out of the current crisis.
“Once we arrive at unity and consensus, we can arrive at new ways of doing this that will be beneficial to the country,” Marshall told Observer on Tuesday.
The economist also urged policy makers and developers to look at rural communities for new opportunities to diversify the economy and develop the production of agriculture and new goods and services. Marshall posited that while agriculture is important, more effort needs to go into looking at how the sector can be further diversified by paying close attention to various soil types that will yield different crops.
This, he said will further improve employment opportunities for people living in rural areas and would curb the migration of people from rural to urban areas which has created some of the poverty seen in the countryside.
Meanwhile, economic analyst, Petra Williams stated that is hard to foresee how the country can go forward because policy makers are caught in a quandary.
“Where are we going from here? It’s almost an open story because until we get a handle on the health side, there is very little we can do in terms of planning,” she said.
Williams added that the government will need to make linkages in established economic policies to address the country’s domestic consumption, not necessarily make new ones.
On a regional scale, according to public affairs commentator Carlon Knight, the Central Bank is doing its part in providing grants, totalling $4 million to all eight member states of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and $500,000 will be given to Antigua and Barbuda to aid in the transfer of subsidies.
“They have been working with the domestic financial institutions to ensure that moratorium on loans to maintain some level of consumption. Also … the rate at which governments can borrow from the Central Bank is reduced from 6.5 percent to 2 percent,” he said.