As we combat COVID-19 we must plan for the futureSunday, September 05, 2021
Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke is reported in the business section of today's publication as indicating that the Government will increase the budget for the Ministry of Health and Wellness in order to provide additional financing in the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to Dr Clarke, the additional funding will be allocated in the first supplementary budget for FY 2021/22 and “will address crucial financing requirements of the health sector, which are significant, as the Government continues its efforts to reduce the health impact of the pandemic on the population, as well as more targeted support for the vulnerable, among many other areas of acute expenditure needs at this time”.
This budget increase, we are told, is being made possible by over-performance of the Government's tax collection during the first four months of the current fiscal year, which generated a primary balance surplus that exceeded the budgeted balance by $26.4 billion.
Minister Clarke also said the first supplementary budget is currently being crafted and will be tabled in Parliament by the end of this month.
Dr Clarke did not disclose the level of increase; therefore, we, like all Jamaicans, will simply have to await his presentation in the Parliament. We expect, though, that the funds will be substantial enough to deal with some of the problems that have hamstrung the country's public health sector for decades.
We reiterate our firm view that there is no greater time than now to direct resources at strengthening the entire public health system. And that must be guided by data and any other information necessary to ensure that when we emerge from this crisis our public health system is first-class. The Jamaican people deserve no less.
If our appeal for a strong focus on forward-planning needs repeating a thousand times we will gladly do so, because that commendable practice, we hold, will place the country in a position to handle, and survive, even the most austere conditions.
The health authorities' push to engage the services of additional doctors and nurses to combat the pandemic needs to be formalised into a more permanent arrangement, as personnel shortage is one of the major problems affecting the quality of service provided to the country.
As such, the Administration needs to look seriously at what we pay these professionals, the conditions under which they are asked to work, and make substantial improvements that will get the country to the point at which doctors, nurses, and other health-care experts shun positions in other countries.
We hear Prime Minister Andrew Holness's argument that in the midst of a pandemic the immediate focus must be to get the rate of infection down and under control. However, multitasking is a skill that has proven effective in many circumstances. It can't be beyond us to deal with the pandemic while putting in place a credible and effective post-COVID-19 plan.
When the crisis is over we should not be left standing at the 50-metre mark when others have already broken the tape.
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