Martin Daly____Use

Martin Daly

It is now clear that the Government was vainglorious in suggesting it had a definite, phased Covid-19 vaccination programme. It used the gift of vaccines, which it so ungraciously accepted from Barbados, to mamaguy us.

The extent of the mamaguy was underlined when a television station ran again last week the scene starring the Minister of Health in the midst of placards when, on February 16, the ministry vaccinated 100 healthcare workers in the course of setting us up for what turned out to be a vaccine fiasco.

The original report carried by Guardian Media included quotes from the first recipient “getting the jab”. The report began as follows: “In a landmark move in the country’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, 100 frontline healthcare workers were the first to be inoculated as the Ministry of Health began its first phase of vaccinations at the Couva Multi-Training Facility yesterday. They received their first of two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.”

But it was the Minister of Health posing in a photograph with five of the recipients, which contained what is now exposed as a gross mamaguy. This Minister of Health likes the TV too bad. He inserted himself in what he thought was a cute screen scene.

The recipients were holding placards, one of which proclaimed “I got the Covid-19 vaccine. Go get vaccinated”. Another said “I got the Covid-19 vaccine today. You should too”. The Health Minister was right there among the placards. These February doses were a misleading herald of “the first phase” of vaccination roll-out because the Government has no vaccinations to give us. Go and get it where?

We usually associate placards with protest demonstrations. Older ones like me, waiting on the vaccine promised to us in “the first phase”, also remember well the use of placards in ol’ mas bands to explain the satirical portrayals, usually presented in old clothing, from which the term ol’ mas was derived as well as the phrase “everything tun ol’ mas”, meaning that a situation became out of control.

Currently, we have vaccination ol’ mas, and public communications chaos, so it is appropriate that the mamaguy was written on placards with the Minister of Health leading the band. We have Jab Zeneca replacing Jab Molassi, clanking chains similar to Jab Jab but in this case devilishly chaining us to an uncertain future exit from the Covid-19 disaster.

The date of the mamaguy, February 16, is also significant because other Caribbean countries had by then already sourced gift vaccines and received shipment of them. That is why Barbados had some vaccines to re-gift us and, as a result, the ministry was able to administer some show-off vaccines in mid-February.

Adding to the Government’s nightmare communications tangle over vaccine acquisition is the confusion over what went on between the Health Minister and the private sector. ANSA McAL knew if the Government has failed to nail down a reliable source of vaccines in significant quantities, then by dangling before the public that it can swiftly fill the void, the pressure on the Government to buy from ANSA and get us vaccinated will mount and a seller’s market will be created as our anxieties are played upon.

Not surprisingly, therefore, by the middle of last week, there were headlines that Government and business leaders were “teaming up” in the search for vaccines. The Government cannot beat them, so it must join them. Thankfully, that may be to the benefit of us all.

This is not the Government’s finest hour. Many of its members need to humble themselves and talk soothingly like the Foreign Minister, Senator Amery Browne; but even Minister Browne cannot credibly keep up the façade of “non-aligned”, which he is putting up, while we readily open up our country more and more for investment and to undue influence by one side in the new cold war between the US and China.

The Government needs to come to grips with reality and do some introspection. It must cease its invective against those who express opinions, which the Government is too short-sighted or becomes too angry to assess on their merits.

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The problem for St Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean small states is that they’re not poor enough.

By standard World Bank macroeconomic measures such as Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, they’re not as badly off as sub-Saharan African countries.

The problem for St Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean small states is that they’re not poor enough.

By standard World Bank macroeconomic measures such as Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, they’re not as badly off as sub-Saharan African countries. It means that when the bank and other multinational agencies decide on the allocation of aid and development dollars, they’re given less access and fewer concessions.

Correctly so, you could argue. The poverty and deprivation I saw in rural Sierra Leone in West Africa were far worse than I’d seen elsewhere, including Haiti. Added to that, the country hadn’t recovered from a brutish civil war abetted by notorious Liberian warlord Charles Taylor—the kind that saw unspeakable atrocities, such as soldiers carving foetuses out of the bellies of pregnant women.

SVG, Haiti and Guyana are underdeveloped countries, but not as much as Sierra Leone. However, regardless of the facts on the ground or the numbers in the computer, the bank recognised that GNI per capita was an incomplete measure of a country’s development.

All countries are rich or poor to degrees that are macroeconomically measurable. But when climate change can wipe out some of them, GNI measures can’t capture that. Additionally, in the case of Caribbean countries, they’re set back decades by hurricanes, as Grenada was by Ivan in 2004 and Dominica by Maria in 2017.

A Caribbean or Pacific small island state can go from middling prosperity to poverty in the course of one natural disaster.

In a report titled “Small States: Vulnerability and Concessional Finance”, the World Bank acknowledged calls by countries in its Small States Forum (SSF) “to include vulnerability as a criterion for accessing concessional resources”.

It said that work needed to be done in defining a Vulnerability Index. That report was in 2018. And yet as I recall, the index was an issue at SIDS 1994—the United Nations Global Conference on Sustainable Development held in Barbados 24 years earlier.

“SIDS” means Small Island Developing States. That is a misnomer, since big states were represented. The sight of Fidel Castro walking into the room and instantly causing a rock star stampede won’t be forgotten.

The World Bank’s Vulnerability Index incorporates “small states” of the SSF, including Namibia and Botswana. Namibia is two-thousand times bigger than St Vincent, four times Guyana, and mineral rich. Their resilience to shocks is much stronger than SVG’s. Why are they even in the small states conversation? This definitional elasticity doesn’t seem helpful to the cause of SIDS.

From SIDS 1994, the UN crafted the Barbados Programme of Action. Top of the list were climate change, and natural and environmental disasters. It’s remarkable that the World Bank was still talking about defining a Vulnerability Index more than two decades later.

Climate change continues to be the main consideration, but the volcanic eruptions on St Vincent should reopen the conversation.

Most Caribbean volcanoes do not seem to be a present danger in the way that La Soufriere in St Vincent is. Mount Liamuiga in St Kitts, for example, is a great hike. When you reach the top, you can descend into the crater.

Nonetheless, The UWI Seismic’s website says that “there are 19 ‘live’ (likely to erupt again) volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean. Every island from Grenada to Saba is subject to the direct threat of volcanic eruptions”.

In St Vincent, overseas relief kicked in to ease water and other shortages. But short-term emergency measures are not enough.

Here’s the bind in which small Caribbean states find themselves. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) told them that no, they have to compete at market price to sell their bananas and sugar. No more preferential pricing that recognises their disadvantages on economies of scale.

WTO regulatory insensitivity effectively killed these industries. In many Caribbean SIDS, all their eggs are in one basket. If that isn’t acute vulnerability, I don’t know what is.

For Caribbean SIDS, we should have been at a place where development aid allocation matches a universally-agreed index; and we have strategic, joined-up planning/execution from the UN, the World Bank, the IMF and others.

Small states partially compensate by playing geopolitical games of influence. Getting money from China or Taiwan. Throwing in their lot with Japan on whaling, to the consternation of their own conservationists.

It’s not enough.

Last week I wrote about how Montserrat has done since the 1997 eruption. They are a British Overseas Territory, but the British-funded rebuild has been sluggish. In my two visits in 2007 and 2014, little changed. I was told in 2007 that a new airport would be built soon. To date, it hasn’t.

However Montserrat’s former premier Reuben Meade told me last week that “the Brits covered all of our expenses for the volcanic situation during and post eruption”.

“They continue to fund some 60 per cent of recurrent expenditure each year”.

Meade said the task of Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of SVG, will be hard.

“SVG will need to find a donor to fund the continuing evacuation expenses which will be very high. Their economy will be in freefall for quite some time. It’s going to be tough for them”.

For SVG, mother country largesse is not an option. They’re nearly broke. Even if La Soufriere stops erupting and the pandemic is eradicated tomorrow, they’ll need smarter, long-term development engagement by donor agencies. A true measure of their vulnerability would be a good start.

Any graduation is accompanied by a sense of relief, freedom, optimism and putting dreams and plans into action. However, reality finds you in the throes of a pandemic, with behaviours regulated, and society unable to assure you about the future

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