By Kenrick Quashie
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is at a crossroads. Honestly, it seems like such a very difficult time to govern. There are so many issues that both elected officers and the general public are aware of.
At the same time, I feel like the government has abandoned its post. Enough noise isn’t being made. The COVID-19 pandemic and the imminent threat of the La Soufriere volcano are competing for national priority. NEMO seems unequipped to manage themself much less to manage the disasters.
Accordingly, I am going to assume political leadership of the country for one day. My schedule will be as follows:
1. A meeting with the top brass of the Ministry of Health. In that meeting, I will speak directly to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) as the leading medical voice on this pandemic. She is to know that she must not worry about any political fallout. Give Vincentians the information and use words for the general population to understand. At a time like this, worry not about political fallouts and don’t toe the line in this regard. You are the expert. Lead the charge.
2. I will invite NEMO heads to join Ministry of Health officials in the latter part of meeting #1 to transition into meeting #2. The responsibility of releasing the COVID-19 data will be taken away from NEMO and given to the Ministry of Health. At this meeting, I will instruct NEMO and the MOHE to get acquainted with the daily briefings that Governor of the State of New York, USA — Andrew Cuomo instituted in 2020 when New York was the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such meetings will become the norm.
3. The heads of the Ministry of Education (MOE) will join NEMO and MOHE officials for meeting #3. I will be sure to give the officials of the MOE a “piece of my mind”. Like how doesn’t the ministry have a full online education system to roll out? The education of our nation’s children is too important for a whole ministry to operate so laid back. In this meeting, an open discussion will be held on the prospects of reopening schools, the implications of operating a complete online school system, students’ mental health, abuse at home, different learning styles for students among others.
I would hope that out of this meeting, a mixed system will be developed, a standard e-learning platform will be adopted, some limited in-person classes, equipping and retooling for teachers and school administrators among others will be agreed upon. I shall allow the MOE two weeks to get its act together so learning can properly resume in February.
4. A meeting will be held with NEMO officials and the team from the Seismic Research Centre (SRC). I will immediately instruct them to cut out this change-date-ONLY report that they send to the media daily. Like, what is that? Vincentians see photos of this black mass growing. You don’t have to tell us again that it is growing. We are concerned about the readings that you have been receiving. Is there increased seismic activity? If so, are they above normal? How much above normal and what is it saying to you? If not, does it appear to be calming down? Is it going back to sleep? I will let them know especially NEMO that I am at my wits end with their callous behaviour of insulting Vincentians’ intelligence. We can reason. We can process information. We won’t all panic. Also, what is this thing about cancelling the meeting in Georgetown because the COVID-19 pandemic? Is the pandemic a new phenomenon? Has the pandemic put the activities of the La Soufriere volcano on-hold? NEMO is operating like a meeting with members of a community can’t be held online or to organize one needs a whole month of planning. Whatever happened to public address (pa) systems? What happen to deploying a team on the ground in the communities to talk to families at their home? You have placed the alert level at orange, which says that an explosive eruption can happen within 24 hours, yet your education and preparedness of the communities to be affected suggest otherwise. Your actions do not match your words.
5. A lunch meeting will be held with the officials of the Ministry of Finance. Two things will be on my mind. (i.) Do not consider increasing the tax burden of the citizens of this country while preparing the 2021 budget. Our people cannot afford it. (ii.) Ensure that MOHE, NEMO, MOE and the other relevant ministries have the resources needed to manage these disasters and continue learning. (iii) Educate and implement a programme to encourage citizens to save at least one month’s salary which might be needed in the event of a volcanic eruption. It is important for citizens to know that they are going to need monetary resources during this time.
6. The officials at the Ministry of Agriculture will join me for meeting #6. They will be instructed to immediately identify at least one portion of land in the “safe” zone for farmers in the red and orange zones to evacuate some of their animals whenever an evacuation order is given. I will propose to them that they use the top part of the former ET Joshua airport- towards Pole Yard or any other suitable place. A living space should also be erected on the site so farmers can share the task of watching over the animals. (i.) This means that an animal identification programme must be implemented. Work with farmers to tag their animals now. (ii.) Begin to cut and dry grass for these animals. Dry grass that can be stored for years. (iii.) Food security is very important. The ministry will have 48 hours to meet stakeholders and properly develop a food security plan to feed the nation if the volcano erupts. Including building barns and warehouses.
7. A meeting will be held with all trade unions, the cabinet secretary, the Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of the Public Sector to agree on a system to keep the business of government functioning and workers safe.
Yes, there are so many more issues to discuss and decisions to be made-just remember it is only one day. COVID-19 and La Soufriere will be on my mind. I will have to leave the office by 5 p.m. to be with my constituency as I can only hope that my presence among my people will allay some fear of the uncertain times ahead.
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].