As Trinidadians, we often want to ‘move on’ when difficult issues arise. We seldom wish to examine how public injustices happen. Instead, we accuse all who stop to explore the wreckage since we do not want ‘to play the blame game’.
This tendency is why our nation took 14 years to launch an inquiry into the 1990 events that wrecked Port of Spain irretrievably. After multi-million dollars losses, we refused to understand what took place and why it happened.
This behaviour should not continue with the prime minister’s apology for the vaccination debacle and the unwise retort of the opposition leader. We cannot simply move on.
The global reality is that the wily Covid-19 virus is not going away any time soon. Taiwan and Vietnam had tightly controlled borders, excellent testing and tracing and isolation regimes. Yet, the absence of vaccines resulted in a sharp reversal of their good fortune.
The United Kingdom and Seychelles had high vaccination rates but now find themselves on the back foot. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is at his wit’s end with the rise of the Delta variant.
Unfortunately, magical thinking by our leaders will not stem the virus or its effects. We are in a long-term battle. There are no quick wins against this resilient foe wreaking worldwide economic damage.
Trinidad is not isolated from the global ‘vaccine apartheid’ inequity. The brouhaha over the receipt of vaccines in the region obscures reality. Public health problems call for public action: market-type resolutions do not work. They cannot be resolved by one person or even a single team.
Different theories and uncertainties require much discussion to reach the best solutions. But Covid-19 affects every aspect of our lives, and so it engenders political competition, which kills productive conversations. Instead, we debate before audiences of non-experts, and the success criterion is electoral victory.
The polarised politics dominate and shape public attitudes and perception. Hence, we can propose firing Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh instead of discussing alternative measures needed.
Confidence in the public health system erodes when legally sanctioned measures cause harm. An apology is an essential step in the healing process. For simple matters, the ‘I apologise’ or ‘I am sorry’ is generally acceptable, but for more grave acts, we expect more.
Dr Keith Rowley assumed the correct posture: ‘I take responsibility… because it is a government decision, I am the head of the government.”
Acknowledging the unforced error of the week’s campaign, he apologised to those who were harmed by their believing the government. Yet, he attempted to reduce the offensiveness of the act by minimising the experience (‘one bad day’) and insisting that ‘we have a better vaccination programme than many Caricom countries’.
In the first instance, was the grave disrespect acceptable because it was ‘one day’? Secondly, the attempt to position the act in a broad positive context to improve his image was unwise. The two named countries took different policy decisions; any such assessment is more properly that of Caricom. Sadly, the comparison also did not address our seniors’ worries.
Unrestrained, our opposition leader jumped in, muddying the waters. She evidently did not read the 1990 Commission’s assessment: Imam Abu Bakr made the false assumption that, because there was widespread discontent with the government, he would automatically attract popular support from disaffected persons…this assumption that he would receive popular support was ill-founded. He was an irresponsible in search of responsibility, even if acquired illegally.
Is she immune from that historical mistake? Has she considered who are the actors actively contributing to the disaffection?
Some commentators correctly upbraided the opposition leader’s assessment of the situation. They, however, appear to have missed that Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar may have been making a political calculation based on poor electoral mathematical advice and may have been led astray by the vaunting electoral ambitions of others.
The conduct of the latter stains the senatorial legacy of this country. We ignore at our own risk. The opposition leader trashed the reputation of the lead medical team, but what benefit does our nation derive?
Regretfully, several opposition Members of Parliament agreed with their leader’s position.
Where was the discussion about building a better vaccination process or a proper public health care system to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases—the foundation of our Covid-19 death toll?
Sacrificing our nation’s best interests seems acceptable politically, while shamefully, most of us only want to move on.
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