Express Editorial : Daily

Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith has rightly served notice that he will not be granting permission for marches and vigils, given the new rise in Covid-19 infections.

Having experienced a full-blown crisis between August and October last year, the entire population should be anxious to nip this latest surge in the bud.

Faced with similar situations, some governments have not placed their faith in the public’s willingness to comply. New Zealand, for example, has been very well-served by imposing hard temporary lockdowns to snuff out the virus at the first sign of an uptick. As good as we in Trinidad and Tobago have so far done, New Zealand, with a population of five million, has recorded 26 deaths and 2,476 cases in contrast to the T&T’s 141 deaths and 7,924 cases in a population of 1.4 million.

Commissioner Griffith’s decision to clamp down, therefore, is a move to be supported. If anything, he should be serving notice not only on persons planning marches and vigils, but on everyone inclined to breach any of the Covid-19 regulations. The sustained low infection between November and a week ago has bred a habit of complacency that might not be easily shaken. The evidence of people letting down their guard abounds outside bars, inside restaurants, in markets, on the streets, funerals, recreation grounds, beaches and other places of assembly. While Commissioner Griffith is right to single out marches, vigils and gatherings associated to the next week’s Spiritual Shouter Baptist Liberation Day and Easter holidays, the reality is one of widespread breach.

In exercising his authority not to grant permission for marches and vigils, Commissioner Griffith and his officers must be sensitive to the Constitution and guard against overstepping the bounds of the law. It is public knowledge that several civic organisations and trade unions are actively organising and mobilising around anti-crime and labour interests. To avoid any perception of them being targeted by the police, we urge the commissioner and these groups to engage each other in the interest of avoiding unnecessary confrontation.

It is a fact that in several countries Covid-19 regulations are being used to suppress anti-government sentiment. This has so far not been T&T’s experience, and every effort should be made to keep it so through meaningful communication between the TTPS and sectoral interests.

The news that the first batch of 33,600 vaccines from the WHO’s COVAX facility will arrive on Wednesday should mitigate some of the national anxiety over repeated and disappointing delays. Although it represents just one third of the 100,000 doses secured by the Government through COVAX, it is the start of what we hope will be a steady stream.

We note that the public is yet to get a clear statement from the Ministry of Health about precisely how this lot will be distributed and to whom. If a lack of transparency causes the vaccine distribution programme to degenerate into confusion and allegations of favouritism, nepotism and corruption, the government would have no one to blame but itself. They should consider themselves warned.

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Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley’s declaration that this country must now have contingency plans for the event of volcanic ash blowing our way and wreaking havoc within our economy, both of the strictly commercial type as well as in our agriculture, is a reality that we have to face.

Reading Caribbean Airlines’s decision to continue its intention to purchase the Boeing jets it has on order had me stunned in amazement. My normal splenetic delivery was silenced for once. My weakly-beating heart almost stopped its puny efforts to maintain my existence on this green earth.

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Recent contributions in the press have joined the consistent commentary of Basdeo Panday on the irrelevance, unrepresentativeness and ineffectiveness of our present system of government. Their conclusions point to the urgent need for constitutional reform.

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.