The opportunity provided by Covid-19 is transformational, but only if we remove the blinders of racial politics and the winner-take-all approach to developing our country, then engage a collaborative approach.
Before March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the pause button on much of our activity, our systems were broken, and the society was in a negative freefall. Three examples come to mind: the continuous worsening of our debt to GDP ratio, the decreasing placement of our country on both the ease of doing business index and the corruption perception index, and the negative crime statistics and situations citizens navigate daily. We needed deep systemic change then, and it is even more critical now.
Our social systems are informed by the philosophy of giving a person a fish rather than teaching a person to fish. Hence our focus is on transfers and subsidies, which has only resulted in deepening the dependency syndrome.
To continue the fish metaphor, what is needed today is to revolutionise the entire fishing industry so the players understand that current behaviour like overfishing will ultimately destroy the entire ecosystem. The message must be communicated to the elusive ‘man in the street’ that he/she has a critical role to play in ensuring sustainability.
In addition to the hundreds of persons who rely on transfers and subsidies, several businesses would have to close their doors were it not for the government contracts that they enjoy. This business model is unsustainable. Development and transformation cannot occur on the basis of patronage.
If I could impact the Covid recovery strategy, I would focus on specifically creating a plan to focus on eliminating learning poverty for all children and deepening digitalisation across all sectors of the economy. I would ensure that on any committee or task force to do this, qualified women made up 50% of the group. It goes without saying that the men in the group should be qualified as well.
Our conversation is still dominated by the number of devices to be made available to children when we should be focusing on transforming all our schools to the status of prestige schools. After 60-plus years of various versions of our Ministry of Education, our general underperformance is a clear signal that deep systemic transformation is required to improve the outputs.
We have to move away from talking about digital transformation and actually do it. I recently spent a total of three hours making a payment at the Ministry of Legal Affairs. Some of the process is online, but I still had to go into the ministry to make a payment that could have been done online.
The data from other countries, according to UN Women, suggest that only 13% of the Covid-19 fiscal, social protection and labour market measures target women’s economic security. I suspect that this statistic may be even lower for Trinidad and Tobago. Gender equality in decision-making helps the right decisions to be made in the interest of both women and children.
Countries with gender equality experience increased GDP and reduced family violence. There is an additional long-term beneficial impact for men sharing the formal decision-making table with women and a huge demonstrable impact on other men who see different genders collaborating.
Covid-19 is an opportunity to transform our economy, but it requires a strategy to engage women, a collaborative spirit to engage a diverse range of persons representing various interest groups and the humility to understand that it cannot be done alone.
Just as Covid safety requires global cooperation, surviving this pandemic locally also requires a new, different and intense form of cooperation and collaboration. My question remains: are our leaders mature, humble and brave enough to collaborate?