COVID-19 crisis: Reviving Goa’s economy

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The government in its own wisdom devises various schemes and policies to benefit citizens and bring about the overall development of the state. Sometimes a committee is constituted to advice on the way forward. Economic advisers have their own methods of reaching out to the various sectors of the society and understand the shortcomings to bring about wholesome improvement of the society. The economic revival committee set up by the government to revitalize the state from the distress of COVID-19 sorely missed the experience of a competent economist with wider knowledge of Goans and the state. 

We are today facing a pandemic of rather weird, uncanny and baffling nature. In these circumstances it is the need of the hour for the state to reach out to the citizens and look after their requirements of food, medicines and day- to- day necessities. The government is doing its best within limited means. There is currently no income generated as all the economic activities are at standstill and expenses are mounting. 

To scale up the local economy in these difficult times one can only bide time to successfully come out of this critical period. A small state, Goa has been predominantly surviving on tourism and mining. Mining is stopped due to environmental and legal issues. Supreme Court guidelines can be followed for quick initiation of this business. Tourism industry revival looks to be a distant dream. Most of the employment in the state is related to the tourism industry and economy also revolves around it. With two important sectors likely to take time for revival it looks like the government needs to apply its mind to other avenues.

Goa today has the dubious distinction of having highest number of government employees. Roughly one in twenty four Goan is working in a government office. The salaries, pension, interest and administration expense account for almost sixty five percent of our budget. Then we have different doles ,sops, etc.,  which leaves very little or nothing for development work.  Wth dwindling income due to non-functioning of two major sectors besides low GST income to the state treasury, it is a precarious scenario.

Economists always suggest curtailing wasteful expenditure in these conditions. There has to be evaluation of the manpower in the government departments done by some competent authority like the CAG. The excess staff should be deployed in utility services. New recruitment should be frozen for at least three to five years. Administration should be trimmed and made more efficient. Goa size is as big as a district in any other state. Money saved is money earned. More stress should be given on digitalisation.

Employment generation has to come from the private sector. It is not the business of government to be in business. We have to decide which sectors to promote so that employment will be generated.

Make efforts to start legal mining. Migrants are employed here as our natives do not prefer hard work. Mindsets of our people need to change. Importance of work in the private sector has to be stressed. Government has to make it clear that they have to be ready for hard work and that days of cushy jobs in the government will not be available for the present. 

Major employment generating areas are agriculture, logistics, MSME, IT and utility services. Government should judiciously spend money in promoting skill sets in these areas and for motivating and promoting new young entrepreneurs.

Once lockdown is entirely lifted agriculture should be promoted in full swing giving thrust to seed banks, Agri ancillary works etc. MGNREGA paid workers should be allowed to do agriculture related work in the fields. Promotion of horticulture, dairy, poultry etc should be given prominence. This will also make our state self sufficient.

 Conversion of land should be stopped for at least next three to five years. Orchards and fields should be definitely not allowed to be converted. Contract farming should be allowed. Those agriculture lands not under cultivation should be taken and given to the enterprising youths with incentives.

Happy to learn SSI grievances were discussed in a recent meeting.  I had suggested formulation of a stabilisation fund for micro and small enterprises. This should be other than his regular borrowings. This fund will help to stabilise and survive this pandemic. It should be need based and at interest rate of not more than 5 per cent. It should be available for 18 to 24 months through the government owned EDC.

Commerce ministry should be requested to have a portal for MSME to help assist them in exports. Opportunities to export, joint venture for buyback or join in for commercial production of new innovation. Support cluster of small and medium enterprises to enable them to meet the export volumes. Enable and allow to source and accept deposits from private individuals who will be able to earn better interest making a win win situation for both sides. MSME’s have great role to play in improving the economy.

Goa has a natural port, airport, railway hub and a good road network. State can be developed as a good logistic hub for this region. This will also help boost tech finance and off shore banking in this area. This sector has tremendous potential for employment generation. A roadmap for development of this sector has been submitted to the government. I am sure this is the right time to pursue it .

If we can manage to get some foreign direct investment in Goa it will be like icing on the cake. For this the government administration has to be ready and active. 

Ease of doing business need to be in action and not on paper.  Red tapism and corruption should be things of the past. Industry and business related government organisation need to be proactive and fast action oriented instead of sitting over the files as it is happening now. E- governance will be the key for improving and providing services 

Together we can work for improvement and achieving the bottom line of bringing about improvement in economy and generate employment at the same time to make our state sujalam and sufalam.

The writer is chairman, ASSOCHAM- Goa Council