The efforts needed to coordinate the necessary actions to combat Covid-19 should induce wide-scale collaboration. A government cannot act on its own but must bring along the wider society. Polarised positions negatively impact the effective societal response.
When there are difficult new situations, and the media is the prominent news provider, citizens turn to their leaders to form their opinions. It is a shorthand way to align to one’s interests or to confirm one’s partisan position.
The MFO May 2020 poll found that more than half of our citizens were uncertain about the future. This level was double the 2019 level. Social media, according to the poll, ranked comparably with the Ministry of Health website as a place for reliable information. This year, the social media content has become more filled with bile towards our political and medical leadership.
Any meeting between the prime minister, the opposition leader and other leaders must be understood in this context. While good ideas can emerge from open, rigorous debate, there has to be good faith. All parties have to be honest and respectful of each other and their dignity.
One cannot enter such talks if the objective is to gain an advantage or to get attention. There has to be a spirit of learning and compromise that elevates the best practices to navigate the pandemic’s challenges.
How can one dialogue when the other adopts a ‘take no prisoners’ approach to every problem? What is the incentive to have the conversation if quarrelsome behaviour gets you control of the national cash register?
When there is no downside for misstating facts or making up stuff or simply being obstructive, how can there be a meeting of the minds? How can one progress to solutions when positions can be reversed because of political expediency?
If one lives in an alternate universe, it becomes difficult to converse. Everything becomes a validation of longstanding grievances. We are experts in manufacturing arguments to undermine each other and society’s hope.
Some private-sector leaders have been clamouring to join the talks. Their idea to get an exemption to go abroad for vaccination shows a complete lack of leadership and national commitment. The simple maths will show that this is a pure elitist posture that would not move the needle of increased vaccinations.
Are they expecting the foreign government to pay for their vaccines? Their desire to have the government do more for their workers while at the same time complaining about the national debt ratio makes one wonder about their healthy balance sheets and the excess system liquidity.
In 2019, the Financial Intelligence Unit reported a 79% surge in tax evasion cases, a trend that continues to be worrisome.
VS Naipaul’s The Mimic Men (1967) captures the mindsets of our leaders. In a decolonised nation, our elites are unable to define themselves and what is essential for progress without the colonial interface. Our imaginations remain colonised.
We are unable to create a national self-awareness, which is necessary for the creation of a nation. There is a perpetual state of helplessness that enables us to excuse our pitiable lethargic efforts while empowering us to dress down the government. We remain individuals who seek refuge in other lands rather than fix our problems.
There is a cost to these choices, which inhibit genuine conversation. An immediate outcome is our ‘brain drain’, where 79% of our scholars do not return home. Why should they, if our leaders ‘scorch the earth’ once they are not getting their way?
This behaviour by our leaders denudes our nation of the potential intellectual capacity to manage the country or imagine a different future.
The constant warring affects our resource allocation since the eye is always on the next election or the next dollar. Instead of building sensible long-term plans, our leaders feed the masses with glittering baubles. Respected observers have cited the risk of capital flight which would rob the country of investment opportunities and slow further growth, causing depreciation.
What will we do? Dale Carnegie once told a tale about two prisoners: one saw the stars and the other the mud.
Do we create a vision, or do we keep cursing and shoving each other? Do we see our nation’s potential, or will we persistently ‘bad mouth’ our country? What do we want for our young children?
As a people, we need to examine the horns of the elites.