Coming events cast their shadows before them. Pay attention to the news and you can generally foretell when something momentous is about to happen. Like the closing weeks of 2020.
The question, in the light of the impending outcomes, then is: what do we owe each other? Are we, who are more fortunate and who can isolate ourselves via our Zoom platform, social bubbles, and remote activities, going to round down the risks to zero, forgetting that those risks add up to a monumental one for the less fortunate?
In the first story which dealt with the management of the homeless situation, the contempt by the powerful for the less fortunate could not be clearer. The mayor of Port of Spain argued that ‘the homeless populating the streets do not fit into the grand scheme… the redevelopment of Port of Spain’. An unnamed source intoned: ‘stop pitying the homeless; get them off the streets’.
While both acknowledged the presence of mental health issues, the latter person claimed: ‘… they prefer to misbehave…’ The solution? Hide them in a building.
With this mindset, how will the Ministry of Health and other assorted agencies seek a long-term solution?
Within days, two stories undermined this hubris. The sad story of Angelys Marelys Boada Munoz, the Venezuelan migrant, told of a swift decline from high ambition, doing the right thing to job loss to scraping to live to mental health issues to being a ‘nobody’ to her untimely death.
At the George Street soup kitchen on Christmas day, it was reported that ‘elderly men hobbling on canes, single parents, infirm, teenagers, and several children joined the queue.’
The supervisor explained: ‘needy people have come… people lost their jobs… could not work… people were furloughed… ran out of cash. We had people from Belmont and Maraval…”
Covid is not only a health issue; it is also an economic one. There but for the grace of God, go I.
The Caricom ruling in a trade dispute between Dominica and Jamaica over soap raw material can be the trigger for the disintegration of the organisation. In the discussions, it was alleged that the Jamaican manufacturers were traders. That assertion is the supreme ‘diss’ and anyone who follows things Jamaican would understand how that would be received.
It was cryptically reported that ‘the Jamaican government is examining the issue to prepare a response.’ What does this mean for the development of the regional economy and our manufacturers? If this matter sours, then our pain will be real.
The Caricom secretary-general, in his year-end message, was silent about trade issues. Where will we find statesmen to deliver our region from impending danger and drag us from our time warp (when things were done in a particular way) to the present, when we have to devise new solutions?
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) then chimed in with their latest report identifying that 2020 was ‘the deepest single year economic contraction since 1975’, while projecting double-digit declines in real GDP for some of our important markets.
It said, ‘Caribbean economies that depend on external demand from advanced economies are not likely to see a full return to pre-Covid levels of economic activity for some time’.
This polite nuanced phrasing includes us. Does this prediction mean that more of us will become vagrants?
The NFM story about shortages in local animal food is a harbinger. On top of potential job losses in 2021, we will be facing food shortages and higher prices. This is not the fault of the government to whom some will wish to assign blame. This is the reality of the Covid impact on global farms and the disrupted supply chains.
In response, will we use debt and draw down foreign exchange to keep the economy going? Where will that take us?
The IDB spoke to the need for strengthening our economic institutions which are ‘…critical in the long run to help manage short-term cycles and spur higher productivity’. The report went on to say, ‘a sound institutional framework by no means constitutes a full-fledged protective shield against such devastating shocks, but it provides a more formal structure to respond to them’.
Given what we have seen locally, are we moving in that direction? What therefore are the consequences of our sloth in fixing our institutions? Will not the poor among us bear the brunt of that?
All these issues have a direct social cost. The question then is: What should we do about this risk of severe social dislocation possibly accompanied by civil unrest?
We could value each other as human beings made in the likeness of God and help the less fortunate. We could collaborate with the NGO sector stalwarts to ensure that help reaches those in need. We can mobilise to change systemic issues that distort our society.
Or we can say it is a problem over there and move on. Let other people see about it. 2021 awaits our decision.