Daly: Credibility in a crisis; why are health-related questions ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘mischievous’?

In our post-colonial society, we have never solved the problem of what checks and balances ought to be placed on the exercise of the constitutional power of the political bosses, namely the Executive, which we elect to govern us at periodic intervals, usually every five years.

It is a long story why there is such a continuing deficiency in our governance arrangements, but such checks and balances are particularly important because, although elected by a democratic process, our governments are never long in office before they become authoritarian.

Photo: Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh (left) and National Security Minister Stuart Young discuss the novel coronavirus.

In the setting of a plural society like ours, an authoritarian approach is especially divisive. It leaves the government’s credibility in a crisis, like that of the Covid-19 virus, struggling for the broad support that it needs if moral suasion measures are to be embraced.

In authoritarian mode, our governments believe that they know what is best for the country. Consequently, they become routinely dismissive of any ideas not in consonance with theirs and insulting towards criticism, however well-intentioned or possibly constructive.

The authoritarian syndrome was wittily summarised in Get to Hell Outta Here, a 1965 Sparrow calypso about a ministerial appointment: “So shut up and don’t squawk; this ent no skylark; when I talk, no damn dog bark.”

These lines are cautionary in these Covid-19 times in which, for example, the minister of health wants no damn media person to use the word ‘panic’, even when panic buying is evident and newsworthy and delineated in stashes of extra toilet paper that the medical experts say are not required.

To those who question whether we are properly testing for the Covid-19 virus, we may hear, by way of official response, ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘mischievous’, the disparaging terms beloved by some of the government’s A-team. However, the question legitimately arises from the mantra of the director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: ‘test, test, test’.

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Is primary contact with a confirmed case not a criterion for immediate testing? One might worry that we are not testing adequately because we have limited testing capacity. Hopefully, our officials are not overplaying the narrative that all our cases are ‘imported’.

Thankfully, however, many of us are clearer how to take Covid-19 virus precautions after the scintillating televised presentation of Dr Eldonna Boisson, adviser, disease surveillance and epidemiology PAHO/WHO, made at an information session organised by the Chamber of Commerce.

‘Isolated at home’ is a paradox arising out of the virus crisis. Also, on morning television, Dr Diane Douglas gave us thoughtful and equally engaging advice on how to deal with everyone being at home all day. Engaging presenters like these are persons on whose words we can rely.

Nevertheless, with restraint from the minister of health, and subject to the lingering testing question, the prime ministerial media conferences have provided accountability and some important assurances. The minister of labour held a helpful media conference on Sunday last to introduce pandemic leave.

I make these comments on the communications strategy and performance of key actors in the crisis because we will ‘all be in this together’ only if we are treated with respect rather than with anger, and both political sides suspend partisan political grudges.

Photo: A hospital braces for Covid-19 cases.

We have many anxieties about the health and economic crisis precipitated by the Covid-19 virus, particularly in a not well-ordered society such as ours. There is low public trust because the politicians have so often misled us. Ironically, some persons in public life complain about social media but they are pleased when social media trolls spin something they like.

Not forgotten is the recent police raid on The Express. The newspaper seems to be in the authoritarian craw of the police because it is not a fawning admirer of the police high command. Sparrow’s lyrics might also be applied to this raid: “Who is not with me, is my enemy and thus will be their destiny.”

Meanwhile, let’s start thinking about the opportunity to remake our economy, at the end of what will be a prolonged period of sacrifice, to place the economy on a less foreign exchange hungry, conspicuous consumption basis—a topic to be explored further.

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About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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One comment

  1. Free health care in TT is wonderful! San Fernando and Port of Spain you do not have to sit and wait for hours/days to see a doctor. Water coming out of every tap!

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