This report by the Media Institute of the Caribbean details how multilateral agencies, international development partners and global donors have assisted T&T with its response to the challenges and development implications of the COVID-19 pandemic:
The first case of COVID-19 in Trinidad and Tobago was recorded on March 12 when a national who had returned from a trip to Switzerland was diagnosed. A cluster of cases involving 40 of 68 nationals who were on a Caribbean cruise was registered on March 21. This was followed by the closure of national borders for all but approved air and sea travel on March 22.
On March 22, the disease claimed its first victim in the country. The ensuing stringent measures formed part of a national lockdown that exempted workers in selected categories and activity in the energy sector.
The impact of the border closure and population lockdown exacerbated a deteriorating economic situation. In the first few months of the pandemic alone, pandemic relief programmes cost the government over US$150 million. And, by the end of the year, it was estimated that at the current rate of economic contraction, the country would have fallen short on revenue by close to US$1.5 billion by the end of the fiscal year in September 2021.
The country has however benefited from financial support from several international benefactors in order to better manage its pandemic measures.
International assistance from foreign governments and international financial institutions have contributed toward efforts by the country to mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic. It is estimated that the country has so far received US$500 million from external sources in COVID-19 based economic relief.
United States of America
The country has received US$475,000 in aid from the United States of America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) via the US Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago. This was announced on April 24, 2020, by then US Ambassador, Joseph Mondello.
The Defence Force Heliport Facility also received funding worth US$88,692.81 from the United States Embassy for COVID-19 relief in the effort to address continuing issues associated with undocumented Venezuelan migrants.
of Latin America
On April 3, 2020, the Corporacion Andina de Fomento (CAF)—Development Bank of Latin America donated US$400,000 to the government, to help in the fight against the spread of the pandemic.
On April 15, 2020, CAF also approved a $US50 million loan to mitigate the COVID-19 health crisis in the country. Following this, the finance ministry announced that on June 25, 2020, two loan agreements with CAF worth US$150 million, were signed.
The first loan of US$100 million was signed to provide financial support to the Government’s economic programmes for social, economic, and financial emergencies generated by COVID-19. The second loan of US$50 million was signed to strengthen Trinidad and Tobago’s health care responses to the crisis.
Pan-American Health Organization—PAHO
On June 26, 2020, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr Carissa F. Etienne noted that Trinidad and Tobago would benefit from a US$5.3 million contribution made by the Government of Canada to PAHO’s COVID-19 response in the Caribbean.
The funds sought to assist in the training of healthcare workers/officials and laboratory personnel, strengthen data collection and surveillance in the form of equipment and personnel, as well as the implementation of risk communication plans.
Earlier in the year, the government of Canada contributed CA$1.5 million to PAHO—part of which was assigned to Trinidad and Tobago for the procurement of laptops to support the collecting, processing, and analysing of clinical/epidemiological data, the training of Critical Care Nurses, and for medical equipment and supplies for isolation facilities.
Inter-American Development Bank—IDB
Trinidad and Tobago has US$124 million in IDB financing for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 2, 2020, the institution announced that it granted a US$100 million loan to the country to finance its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and promote an economic recovery after the pandemic ends.
According to a press release on the IDB’s website, “Trinidad and Tobago will use part of the money to support household income and business liquidity during the pandemic through tax refunds, salary grants, food stamps and rental assistance. It will also use the loan to buy medical equipment and hire medical staff. The loan will also go to implementing the Fair Trading Act (FTA), which involves promoting competition in local markets, lowering the cost of essential goods for consumers, and increasing private sector productivity.”
The 20-year, dollar-denominated loan comes with a 5.5-year grace period and charges an interest rate based on Libor.
On June 5, 2020, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a grant worth US$750,000 to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). The grant seeks to promote regional health security through the coordination of the regional health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to support regional integrated efforts to address common health and economic issues impacting the sustainability of Caribbean economies.
It was made available through the IDB Japan Special Fund and will be used for specifically the enhancement of Laboratory Response Capacity at CARPHA, mobilize surge and strengthen real-time disease surveillance and response through the CARPHA Regional Travelers Health Program (THP) for all 26 of the Agency’s Member States. Activities under that Grant are expected to kick off from July 2020 and run until June 2022.
The World Bank, via its website on July 8, 2020, announced that it had approved US$20 million for Trinidad and Tobago’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Project that seeks to strengthen national systems for public health preparedness.
Tahseen Sayed, World Bank Country Director for the Caribbean stated: “It will assist in providing critical medical supplies and equipment and will strengthen the capacity of the health sector.”
According to the World Bank, the Government’s plan focuses on the procurement of key medical supplies needed for testing and diagnosis, inputs for infection prevention and control in health facilities, personal protective equipment for staff and the provision of training on appropriate clinical care and safe waste disposal. The terms of the loan state a maturity period of eight years with a grace period of 7.5 years.
Caribbean Development Bank—CDB
Regionally, the CDB has approved “a multi-pronged financial package to help our members, which includes policy-based loans of US$140 million; emergency loans totalling US$67 million to seven countries; and US$3 million programmes to provide essential personal protective equipment for Caribbean health care and frontline workers in 14 countries.”
Of this, Trinidad and Tobago received 2,624 Tyvek Suits, 9,372 Surgical Masks, 5,074 Goggles, 8,247 Isolation Gowns, 18,744 Nitrate Gloves and 2,624 KN95 Masks.
In the cultural industries sector, the CDB through its CIIF Emergency Grant Programme has provided US$100,000 in emergency grants for cultural industry practitioners impacted by the cancellation of events due to the pandemic. The country saw 119 applications to the programme, the most of any member state.
Heritage and Stabilisation Fund
In 2020, the country withdrew approximately US$1.2 billion from its sovereign wealth fund, the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF). That sum covers the period January 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020, and the money was drawn down in the fiscal years 2020 and 2021.
In fiscal 2020, US$900 million was withdrawn from the Fund and so far for fiscal 2021, US$300 million has been withdrawn for budget support.
The HSF has been a cushion for T&T’s economy as the Government has used it when it has struggled with revenue to meet salaries and other budgeted expenditure. As of September 2020, the Fund stood at US$5.73 billion.
To mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the economy, the Government initiated a comprehensive stimulus package that needed funding—some of which came from the HSF.
On March 26, 2020, an amendment to the HSF Act was passed in Parliament to allow for withdrawals of up to US$1.5 billion during the financial year, in the event of a health crisis, a natural disaster or a precipitous drop in budgeted revenue.
—The Media Institute of the Caribbean is a non-profit organisation, resource and training facility for the Caribbean that seeks to empower Caribbean journalists by developing their journalistic techniques with an emphasis on investigative journalism.