THE announcement yesterday that national debt is headed towards $8.9bn was an unsettling, yet expected moment.
It was expected most of all by the Minister of Finance, Peter Turnquest, who noted that the amount is not too far off from his forecasts in the Budget in May.
That is impressive in its own way, considering the unprecedented nature of the situation affecting our country – indeed, affecting the world.
The situation is simple. Just as it is for any one of us, we have a balance of how much money is coming in and how much is going out. Since the pandemic hit, there’s been less income and more spending, or as Mr Turnquest notes compared to his predictions, the amount of money coming in is “a little behind” and the amount going out is “a little ahead”.
It’s easy to see the examples of that. With no tourists coming in, there’s no revenue from flight arrivals and the amount received in VAT from their expenditure is going down. On the other side of that, the government is spending significant sums on unemployment benefits and food programmes.
As a result, the deficit – the difference when more is being spent than received – is growing, and with it the total debt.
Given the scale of the global freeze on travel, it’s actually fairly remarkable to hear Mr Turnquest say that we “are doing OK given the circumstances we have”. And encouraging.
The better we come through all this, after all, the better we will be able to rebound when the world returns to some sense of the normalcy we knew before this virus reared its ugly head.
Now, we must not pretend this is good news, or strain our eyes to see the silver lining while ignoring the storm cloud itself, but it does give hope of a rebound in due course. There are suggestions there may be a vaccine by April – and the sooner, the better. As we appear to see, too, a downturn in the number of new cases each day, that gives the prospect that when the vaccine does eventually come, we might be able to stand ready to welcome a world that will be longing to travel again.
And when it does – we hope that debt will start going down again rather than keep on rising.
One more silver lining was glimpsed yesterday, with Sandals announcing a tentative reopening date of February 1.
The caution was evident even in the announcement, with group chief executive Adam Stewart warning people “not to hold on to” that date.
Part of the reason for that is that Sandals feels it hasn’t been able to predict the government’s response to the virus, as it veers between lockdowns and relaxations.
As he said, “the clearer that we are with the marketplace”, the easier it is to stimulate travel.
That’s easy to understand – picture it from the view of the potential tourist who asks what they can expect in terms of COVID-19 restrictions and the travel agent shrugging and saying it could change week to week. How do you commit to non-essential travel with such uncertainty?
The government’s “Vacation In Place” pitch as a fresh coat of paint on the word quarantine also did not go down well with visitors.
Balancing the measures we need to protect health with certainty about what each stage of infection will trigger would be beneficial for everyone – rather than shifting an hour here or there in quarantine or fluctuating between beaches being open or not open.
Clear, simple answers – it’s really what would be most useful to all of us.