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No fear of lack of funding for government coronavirus fight

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Guyana Chronicle, March 18, 2020

NOTWITHSTANDING government agencies currently operating without a budget, there is no fear of the government running out of money to fund emergency initiatives in the country’s fight against the spread of the corona/COVID-19 virus, as the law provides for funding under such circumstances.

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and Attorney General, Basil Williams, have both clarified that the law has such provisions. Nagamootoo explained that the Public Health Ordinance empowers the President to direct that funds be made available as the country continues to take combative measures against the infectious disease, which has been deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Guyana recorded its first case of the virus on March 11, after the 52-year-old patient died. Four other persons, all related to the initial patient, have since tested positive for the virus. Those persons are currently being quarantined at health facilities manned by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH)
“Something like corona virus, if it takes hold of your population, you’re not sure if you will have survivors, so it is an extraordinary situation and, therefore, funding would have to be secured from the national coffers,” Nagamootoo clarified on Tuesday, during a press conference held by the Ministerial Task Force.

He further noted that: “This is an extraordinary situation; there are contingencies for these extraordinary situations. The powers, under the Public Health Ordinance, empowers the president to be able to facilitate access to funds. There are provisions under unforeseen circumstances that funds could be made available from the contingencies.”

The Prime Minister heads the Task Force which is currently coordinating the country’s fight against the spread of the disease.

The government has since taken several measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Four quarantine facilities have been established, and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) have been monitoring probable, suspected and confirmed cases of the virus.

A specific hotline has been established for persons to call if they suspect they or someone else may have been exposed to the virus, since persons are warned not to visit the hospital if they feel they have been exposed, but instead call so that a health team can come to them. A shift system has been implemented for public servants.

Many government Ministries and agencies are implementing vigorous sanitization measures, and providing protective gear to staff.

The country’s borders have been closed, with international flights being suspended for two weeks beginning midnight on March 18. The Ministry of Education (MoE) also took the decision to close public schools for a period of two weeks beginning March 16.
However, with the country’s last budget having expired since December 31, 2019, and the convening of a new National Assembly contingent on the yet-to-be-declared official general elections results, funding would be restricted under the national budget one-twelfth formula.

Article 36(1) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, Chapter 73:02 allows for each budget agency to be issued monthly allocations of a “limit of one-twelfth of the amount that was expended by that budget agency in the immediately preceding fiscal year”.

Last year’s national budget was $300.7 billion, one twelfth of which would be $25.06 billion.However, there are provisions that supersedes this. “You have to have funding in cases like this, so that wouldn’t be an impediment under our Constitution. The government could always expend monies in cases of emergencies. There is provision under the Contingency Fund. Breaches at the seawall… flooding… any natural disaster the government could find money from certain funding. But this particular Public Health Ordinance makes provision for the president in the cases of emergencies; in cases such as this to expend funds from the consolidated fund,” Williams explained.
He noted that in several countries across the globe, funding to fight the virus has been prioritized.

“If every country you look at that is dealing with this COVID 19, you see that as a priority in their measures is to gather in the funding that will be utilized in all the areas,” Williams said. The virus has already been responsible for over 8600 deaths as of March 18, since its outbreak in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.