Express Editorial : Daily

The murder of 15-year-olds, Simeon Daniel and Antonio Francois, following their escape from a safe house run by the Children’s Authority was far from inevitable and requires a full investigation.

Both were at-risk children who had made it safely into the hands of the State and still ended up dead.

It is therefore nonsensical for the Authority’s director, Nicola Harvey-Mitchell, to hold the contradictory and simultaneous positions of accepting responsibility for their escape while insisting that their murders do not represent a failure by the Authority. Unless it accepts that it has failed these two boys and moves swiftly to address the sources of its failure, time wasted in denial and defensiveness could cost other children their lives.

We have no doubt, as Ms Harvey-Mitchell asserted, that there are many good and hard-working employees among the Authority’s staff. Some may even be exceptional. However, her recognition that the boys’ escape was the result of a “gap in security and supervision” is an admission of failure, no matter how one slices and dices this fact.

What is alarming is that the Authority knew in advance that the boys were among a group planning to abscond because of what they claimed were abuse and mistreatment. The director herself got involved and reports a conversation with Daniel last week which left her assured by his words, “Director, I am not going to abscond.” But he did, and was gunned down days later.

The outcome of their escape raises several questions that demand answers: Aware that an escape plan was being hatched, was the Authority’s intervention appropriate and timely? Did it ameliorate the situation or aggravate it? In the circumstances, was the safe house adequately supervised? Why was the chipping away around the burglar-proof bars discovered only after their escape?

The director’s responsibility is not to defend her staff but to seek the interest of the children entrusted to the Authority’s care which, in this case, it had signally failed to do.

In defending the Authority, she cited problems which may have contributed to the tragedy and could very well lead to others. Among these was what she described as a “placement crisis” caused by the large number of children being sent to the Authority for “care and protection”.

An over-burdened system is a major problem which could further undermine the Authority’s work and set it up for chronic failure. It is therefore the responsibility of the board headed by Dr Carol Logie to lead the charge against this. As an entity under the Office of the Prime Minister, the Children’s Authority must be aggressive in demanding the resources required for fulfilling its mandate, starting with its first duty to “promote the well-being of the child”.

As it stands, the Authority has not only failed Simeon Daniel and Antonio Francois but parents like Daniel’s mother, Natalie Brathwaite, who intervened in time to save her troubled son by taking him to the Family Court and getting him placed in the Authority’s care, confident that she was doing the right thing. And now, he is dead.

RECOMMENDED FOR YOU

The news that the highly transmissible Brazilian Covid-19 variant has been detected in this country adds new urgency to the need to raise our defences against this virus.

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.

WE are in another lockdown because of the behaviour of some of our young people whose main focus is to enjoy life with no worry about tomorrow. 

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.