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Multilateral powerhouses the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, have started discussing the possibility of joining forces to help T&T combat its current economic hardships.

This was revealed by Therese Turner-Jones the IDB’s general manager of the Country Department Caribbean Group, which oversees the bank’s operations in several territories including T&T, during a webinar hosted by the IDB titled “Coronavirus and the Caribbean” which was held via video conferencing app Zoom on Monday.

James P Scriven, the general manager of IDB Invest, said the institution has US$5 billion available to help mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

“It is not earmarked only to the region but at least US$500 million of business that will be earmarked to the Caribbean,” Scriven said.

“In addition to that we are creating a very specific facility that is going to be approved by the board in the next ten days to earmark specific areas that are directly impacted in the crisis, I am talking about the health sector, I am talking about the education sector, I am talking about the farming sector. The sectors that can help address the current crisis that we are going through,” he said.

Turner-Jones spoke of the possible collaboration between the two major multilateral development banks as she responded to a question asking if development financial institutions and other organisations have been cooperating to help the Caribbean face these trying times.

“We are definitely talking and we are coordinating to the extent that we are allowed to, meaning between the World Bank and the IDB, for example, we have frameworks that we can work together on financing arrangements and yesterday in the context of Trinidad I had a question from the World Bank about can we work together on this request from Trinidad,” she said.

“So yes it only makes sense because first of all we are few, the countries are small, their capacity is constrained and rather than have many different organisations tripping over each other it is much better to collaborate,” Turner-Jones said.

Turner-Jones said collaboration within the region was born out of necessity.

“I think it’s a good example of international co-operation and partnership but that is basically out of necessity we don’t have the luxury of being able to compete against each other or to overlap on some areas that’s just not an option in the Caribbean,” she said.

Scriven said he regularly meets with the president of the IDB group and options for collaboration with other multilaterals are constantly reviewed.

Scriven said collaborations occur for one reason.

“The problems are so big that we need to collaborate, there is no reason why and we should not be competing. On the contrary. Only by adding all of our resources the solutions can be more tailormade to the region,” he said.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert has so far signalled that the government will need around $9 billion to address the country’s current economic situation arising out of the dramatic collapse in oil prices, reduced revenue from natural gas, and a decline in business activity expected as a result of preventative measures implemented to cope with COVID-19.

Imbert said one of the four possible options the government is hoping to explore to raise the much-needed funding is through the assistance offered by multilateral financial institutions.

Turner-Jones said the IDB will also be looking at assisting small businesses.

“Imagine you are a small business in the Caribbean, for the most part, your organisation is going to be badly hit because economic activity has come to a grinding halt throughout the region so how do we make sure that at the end of this those entities are still in some sort of position to survive and that would mean providing whether it is guarantees or through development banks or through the commercial banks where we have relationships to provide these credit guarantees but also to give those small, medium enterprises some advice on how to go about dealing with this crisis,” she said.

“This is also a moment for all governments in the Caribbean to take a look at how we do business and how we deliver services to the general public,” Turner-Jones said.

IDB’s general manager of the Country Department Caribbean Group said she was worried that children may not be able to access education because of the closure of schools and the lack of online education option in the region, especially at public schools.

Turner-Jones said if she had to grade the region in terms of our readiness to implement online services and operate in a virtual space we would get a five.

“In my few decades as an economist, I certainly have never seen anything quite like what we are witnessing today it is one of the most complex economic scenarios in the last hundred years both globally and regionally,” David Rosenblatt the IDB’s regional adviser stated.

Rosenblatt said to stop the disease would require large segments of economies not operating.

“This is not only going to be a financial and economic crisis it is also going to be a health crisis, but a mental health crisis people are not used to what we are going though, being confined to their own houses day and night in total lock-down so I do think that psychological and meant health issues are going to rise and for all intents and purposes I think the Caribbean can play a big healing role to the world specifically through tourism,” he said.

Turner-Jones said the time now calls for creativity from all sectors as it cannot be business as usual.

Monday’s webinar was hosted by Golda Lee-Bruce and lasted for an hour.

There were over 500 attendees.