Editorial: Temporary suspension of debt service payments by poor countries welcome

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The decision by Group of 20 major economies and Paris Club creditors to temporarily suspend debt service payments from the poorest countries is a welcome gesture to weather the economic and health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

G20 officials and Paris Club creditors agreed last week to suspend debt service payments for the world’s poorest countries through to end of the year – a move matched by a group of hundreds of private creditors.

The gesture will prove to be a timely lifeline in view of the fact that an Africa regional World Health Organisation (WHO) official is forecasting that coronavirus cases in Africa could shoot up from thousands now up to 10 million within three to six months, which is a frightening prospect should it hold to be true.

Looking ahead, therefore, it appears the worst is yet to occur in terms of Africa’s affliction with COVID-19; that is why it is apt for the IMF and World Bank to be looking at ways to “ease the burden” on countries saddled with high debt levels. Otherwise, the double tragedy would be unbearable.

IMF, World Bank and Finance Ministers from African countries met online with UN officials and others last Friday to discuss their call for debt relief, and Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta was one of three persons that spoke at this year’s Spring Meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Expressing anxiety over COVID-19’s impact on the continent, Ofori-Atta noted rhetorically: “Africa’s external debt stock is more than US$700bn. Africa needs to pay US$44bn to service our debt this year.

“What does an African finance minister do now? How can we restore 10-15 percent of GDP over a two- to three-year period?” This is not an enviable time to be an African finance minister when such stark realities confront you.

Nigerian Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed, in remarks prepared for the meeting of the World Bank’s Development Committee, backed a call by African leaders for US$100billion of emergency aid, including US$44billion earmarked for immediate debt relief.

International Monetary Fund chief, Kristalina Georgieva, said the IMF’s steering committee had unanimously urged private sector creditors to join in to stem a massive outflow of capital from emerging markets and prevent unnecessary bankruptcies.

As COVID-19 ravages the global economy, this respite for the poorest of the poor is more than welcome.

All hail frontline health workers for their fortitude during COVID-19

Frontline health workers, including the security detail that ensures the citizenry observe the country’s partial lockdown, deserve our highest regard and commendation. They are putting themselves at risk to ensure that the majority of Ghanaians are safe from the pandemic that is rocking the world.

It is for this reason that the Ghana Commercial Bank’s (GCB) gesture to provide meals for 500 doctors and frontline health services staff, as part of its commitment to the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19), on a daily basis cannot go without mention.

The bank, under an arrangement with some private suppliers and catering services companies, is offering nutritious meals, water and drinks as lunch packages for the health workers for a month.

In places like Italy and Spain where the pandemic has devastated whole communities, it is not uncommon to see citizens – even though under strict lockdown – express gratitude to health workers for defying the odds in bringing relief to many who would have otherwise been consumed by rapid spread of the novel virus.

Medical doctors and other frontline health services workers from Ga East Municipal Hospital, Mamprobi Polyclinic, Legon COVID Centre and Ussher Polyclinic in the Greater Accra Region are being catered for by GCB, and we believe this gesture is worth commending since the state apparatus will be stretched under such circumstances.

The GCB Managing Director, Ray Sowah, rightfully noted that with increasing pressure on frontline workers due to the rise in number of COVID-19 cases, it is very difficult for frontline health service staff to leave their duty-posts in search of food due to the partial lockdown.

Good health is ‘sine qua non’ to productivity, and for the country to bounce back after COVID-19 debacle it is important that those who assist the country’s citizens to maintain good health are recognised for their untiring efforts.

Once again, we extend ‘ayeeko’ to all frontline workers!

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