By: Kebba AF Touray
Scores of Gambians have expressed fear that the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic may impact and affect the life and livelihood of the people and the country’s economy.
Fatoumatta Saidy, a vegetable produce seller at the Latrikunda Market, recalled that the closure of the market during the first wave of the pandemic brought hardship to them as they struggle to provide basic necessities for their families.
“When the market was closed, I depended on the money I saved to cater for the needs of my children such as food, school fees and so on,” she said.
Should the third wave continue, she said the impact will undoubtedly be a replica of what her family had endured during the past waves. She added that she relies on her sales to take care of her family.
Maimuna Jammeh, a grade 10 student, recounted the ordeal she went through during the previous waves, which impacted her education.
“Our school was ordered to close by the authorities. This has kept me out of school for almost 9 months. This has affected my academic performance, because the online classes were not as effective as normal classes,” she said.
Jammeh said this has contributed negatively on her performance during the last exams compared to the pre-COVID exams. She called on the government to develop a response mechanism and the general populace to adhere to safety measures provided by health experts to protect oneself and family members from the virus. She added that the third wave may also affect the people if precautionary measures are not strictly adhered to.
Lamin Dampha is a lecturer at the University of The Gambia (UTG) at the School of Business and Public Administration.
Mr. Dampha, who also doubles as the Executive Director, Center for Policy, Research and Strategic Studies (CEpRass), explained that the center is a pro-academic research center in the country that conducts research within and outside the country.
“Our core mandate at the center is to conduct research, training and consultancy,” he said.
Speaking further, Dampha said since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the Gambia Government has adopted a series of measures. Among them, he said included the reallocation of D500 million to the health ministry and provision of food relief package to a targeted 84 percent of the population and cash transfers.
These interventions, he said, were aimed at helping the government to prevent and contain the spread of the coronavirus within the country and also to dampen its effect in the county’s economy, which went through a series of lockdowns between March and September 2020; and that has affected economic activities.
“The provision of non-essential services was halted and that has affected many people and their livelihoods in the country during the previous waves. So, the measures undertaken by the government at the time, for change in budgetary commitment has affected our fiscal landscape,” he said.
Dampha stated the allocation of D12 million to the health ministry at the start of the pandemic went into payment of quarantine centers and purchase of vehicles, in a bid toprevent and contain the spread of the virus. He said in order to fund the food distribution package, the government had to do further virements or budgetary reallocations to fund the food package which has resulted in the reallocation of D800 million from the budget on debt repayment.
The UTG lecturer said in July 2020, the National Assembly also at the time, approved a supplementary appropriation bill to the tune of D2.3 billion as additional measures, with the objective to cope with the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic.
“At the time, a lot of activities were halted, such as businesses and the closure of schools, mosques, churches and markets. These had all created a dire need for the provision of supports to the vulnerable people”, he stressed.
Dampha said all these interventions and supports required resources and they ultimately have an impact on the country’s economy in general.
“At the macroeconomic level, especially the food relief package, may impact on the country’s balance of payment, in the areas of government spending, debt structure as well as the credit rating might also be affected, because majority of those food products consume in The Gambia are imported, as local production is unable to meet the domestic demands,” he said.
Dampha said anytime there is problem in the county’s balance of payment, it will ultimately trigger either an increase in government borrowing or they will resort to a supplementary appropriation bill.
He further said in terms of estimates, the finance ministry indicated an increment in fiscal deficit by 9 percent from 2019 and 2020, excluding the grants. And this is attributable to increase in government expenditure on COVID19 emergency response, he added.
“If there is an increase in government’s spending due to COVID without a commensurate increase in revenue including grants, it would require more borrowing by government to address the deficit,” he said.
The UTG lecturer said this will consequently increase the public debt stock and increase government borrowing, particularly from the private sector, in the form of loans which would have an effect on the country’s economy and impact on investment.
“In the light of the foregoing, the preventive and containment efforts of the government definitely contributed to the increase in public spending, which may affect the public debt in the long run. Debt sustainability must be adopted in post 2021, to ensure that public debt does not rise beyond the sustainable level,” he said.
Dampha also explained that the medium and long terms effect of the third wave is evident in view of the domestic loan taken by the government through rapid credit facility given by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for the containment and preventive measures of the pandemic during the past waves of the disease.