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LETTER: On the Macroeconomic Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Letter to my President (Part 2)

Apr 14, 2020, 3:02 PM

Mr President,

It’s Sunday morning and I have just stepped out to the bakery close to your newly inaugurated (though incomplete) International Conference Centre around the Senegambia Hotel area to buy some croissants. So early this morning, a group of women have congregated at the entrance of the bakery with their children, begging. I know that we have always had beggars in this country but I have recently noticed an upsurge in their numbers and the frequency at which they appear in the streets.

 

Certainly the economic slump-down associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been exacerbated by your protracted State of Emergency, is worsening the plight of the underprivileged and vulnerable communities.

Therefore, Your Excellency, I would like to reiterate my plea made in the 5th epistle of this series entitled “On the Realities of our Current Situation” that you should act immediately and roll out a food emergency (and cash) support programme for Gambians.

Suppose my initial proposal of one bag of rice and D1,000 is too heavy a burden for your administration, I can make another proposal that would be a lighter burden on your treasury. Still using the number of 280, 000 households in the country as reported by the most recent Integrated Household Survey (IHS) conducted by The Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBOS); if your government can give out D 700 per household and add a 25kg bag of rice (instead of the previous suggestion of a 50kg bag) to that per household, the cost would be lower and the impactful would still be huge as postulated in our theories and evidence from the application of the Keynesian macroeconomic paradigm.

Doing the math on the above proposal would total D378 million and I can assure you that you would not need to spend much on vehicles and fuel to transport these items because the private sector has taken the lead in donating cash and logistics in our common fight against this pandemic.

Your Excellency, I am appealing to you to take this proposal and implement it before it is too late because your people, the very people at the grassroots who sweated and bled to help you to become President of this country, are the ones suffering the most.

Mr. President, the budget for the above proposal is quite small and it is actually doable. D378 million is just a little above the reported amount of almost D350 million paid out for the implementation of the Banjul project that was actually presented to you as a project to be pre-financed by the contractor who charged a gargantuan premium for that politically motivated intervention aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the city dwellers.

Your Excellency, I would also like to seize this opportunity to appeal to you to make some reduction in customs duties for our business people who were recently gobsmacked with a quantum jump in the amount of money they have to pay to clear their containers of goods at our seaport. Such a move would surely ease the burden of rising prices of essential commodities for the poor.

Mr. President, it is said that periods of crises bring along opportunities for soul searching and self-correction. It is sad and alarming that we do not have a national food reserve.

Therefore in these scary times of global quarantines and limited supply situations, it is the right time to set up a team and equip it with resources to strategise and start #acting now to build up a national food reserve.

As defined by the FAO, national food reserves are “stocks held or controlled by governments on a continuous basis and subject to replenishment within reasonable periods’ (FAO, 1958b). Establishing such reserves would be timely because we do not know what would be the nature and scope of the next global health crisis.

A national reserve would be ideal in helping us as “contingency against local food shortages, transport problems and other difficulties in internal distribution.” If we had a reserve right now, you would not have had the need to unleash the police to arrest shopkeepers for hoarding, and in the process remind Gambians about the scary days of Jammeh-era tactics like “Operation No Compromise.”

For a small open economy like ours, that relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture, and frequently haunted by poor weather conditions, a national food reserve is a must. Shall we take heed then Mr. President?

And lest I forget, shall we not look back at the past and pick up a few lessons from health crises that visited us and how we handled them? We should not allow bureaucracy to stifle the COVID-19 response process. When the cholera epidemic hit us in the year 1869 and killed close to 2000 people in Banjul, the then Governor was dithering and delayed an effective response on the pretext of due process; the resultant umbrage vented by the lettered men of Banjul, who labeled the Governor’s attitude as “parsimonious economics”, led to his sacking.

The second historical lesson is for you to watch our borders with  Senegal because our neighbour was a key source of importation of the  the 1918 flu pandemic. Our borders are porous and we know that our security services are plagued with lack of resources/vehicles to effectively police the entry points of potential carriers of the coronavirus. These are points worth noting alongside the dire need for food support and stimulus packages to vaccinate our economic against a COVID-induced recession.

I humbly and respectfully submit the foregoing for your kind consideration and action.

Yours,

Momodou Sabally

Former research economist and National Budget Director, Momodou Sabally has undergone extensive professional training in macroeconomics and public financial management at the IMF Institute, the Central Bank of England’s Center for Central Banking Studies, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and holds a masters degree in Economics from Georgia State University in the US.

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