*By Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk”, April 24, 2020)
Professor Wendy Grenade, chair, Department of Government, Sociology, Social Work and Psychology at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus in Barbados, wrote a column on the COVID-19. Every politician in our region, especially our prime ministers, should read it, study then draw the relevant lessons.
Grenade argued persuasively: “The dilemma in the quest to save lives may jeopardise livelihoods. Yet the imperative to preserve livelihoods may cost human lives. While economies can rebound, lost lives cannot.”
She noted the ominous warning from the Director of Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) that “COVID-19 has yet to hit with full force in our region, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean.’”
And then she tells us, “For the Caribbean, these are early days yet. There are too many unknowns about COVID-19. We are not quite sure whether we are at the beginning, the middle or nearing the end of this initial phase in the fight against this invisible enemy. There is no place for complacency.”
The foregoing should be met with total agreement by citizens, governments and opposition parties. Why then is there so much noise and disagreement in our region around the best methods to be employed in the fight against COVID-19?
Most of our leaders should jump off their “high horses”.
While requesting permission to extend emergency measures to May 31, 2020, St. Lucia PM Allen Chastanet told his country’s parliament his government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis was “the best in the Caribbean because no one has had to be hospitalised and no one has died”. No comparative proof to establish best.
Kamla Persad Bissesar, Trinidad and Tobago’s Opposition Leader, demagogically proclaimed that the poor were suffering. She demanded that the Keith Rowley government follow the science, put the proper health protocols in place and consider the phased opening of the economy. The clear impression given is that the government is not following the science, refuses to put the right protocols in place and is deliberately causing the continued suffering of the poor. News flash: a good slice of the Trinidadian population has been poor and long-suffering long before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Antigua and Barbuda PM Gaston Browne declared that Antigua cannot afford to remain closed for two, three or four months and he needs to find a way to start the phased opening of the country. He slammed opposition leader, Jamale Pringle, whom he accused of “intellectual masturbation because whatever happens, he collects his $13,000 salary”.
Whatever happens, Gaston Browne also collects his salary, which is more than the opposition leader makes. Evidently, Pringle engages in mental masturbating because he offers a different view of the fight to combat the virus.
And the situation is no different here in SVG. Our prime minister offers himself as the brightest leader in the world. In a distinct state of desperation, he gallops from radio station to radio station intent on demonstrating how studied he is on the question of the pandemic. In the same way, he drowned out the voices of his ministers for two decades, he repeats the identical error with our health professionals.
The clear and distinct impression is offered that Gonsalves is not guided by the professional opinion of Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, Medical Officer, Dr. Roger Duncan and Luke Browne, the health minister. He runs the show, directs the troops and calls the shots. Proof: he stormed and took over the recent media briefing of the medical professionals.
Gonsalves has criticised actions of his regional colleagues to the pandemic as “the laziest thing” anyone can do. To prove the superiority of his approach to fighting COVID-19, Gonsalves bypassed the Grenadian leader and pitches his offer of help directly to the citizens. Later, he claimed not to want to engage in “village dog fight”.
And as if all of this was not enough, Prime Minister Gonsalves goes to his party radio station and requested Michigan and Smiley’s “Diseases.” In the song, Michigan and Smiley deplore the fact that women were wearing trousers as opposed to shirts and blouses. “Mind Jah lick them with diseases, the most dangerous diseases,” they preached.
As Michigan and Smiley list the worst diseases, PM Gonsalves grins and bobs along. Coviditis was his disease of choice. Who does he want to be stricken, his political opponents, those who believe that his approach to the pandemic is much too lax or was he just trying to show that he is in tune with the cultural history of our region?
If Jah were to answer Gonsalves’ call and kills us with dangerous diseases, including Coviditis, would Gonsalves not be as reckless as Luzette King, NDP front line activist, who wished that a tsunami would wash away the argyle? Flood water or Jah fire would kill indiscriminately as the coronavirus pandemic indicates. This virus is no joking matter, yet too many of us give Gonsalves a smiling pass.
All of us want this dreaded disease to go away. All of us are quite aware that a prolonged shut down will cause tremendous hardship on our people, especially the poor.
Therefore, what will we do? What must we do? Evidently, we are required to follow the science. Only the foolish among us will disregard the health protocols detailed by our health officials. Some countries require all citizens to wear masks if they are venturing outdoors. There has been no such suggestion here. Generally, our people are more health-conscious and cautious since the outbreak. Some don’t leave their homes without their mask. Others dutifully sanitize their hands as they enter or leave places of business.
While there is no need for alarm, the announcement of COVID-19 positive #13 should be of some concern to all citizens. This is the first of the persons who tested positive that’s not imported. This may mean we have crossover from imported cases to local or community spread. Either way, this is not good news. An eerie cloud enveloped Kingstown in recent weeks. We must ensure this virus does not spiral out of control.
No one has all the answers. Some among us are so intoxicated with power or the quest for high office they are prepared to climb over the corpses of ordinary people. We hope they inherit the wind. We hope our leaders humble themselves and do what is in the best interest for all our people.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].