Express Editorial : Daily

While the Government is being led by science and data in the public health battle against Covid-19, there is little evidence of a similar approach being applied to decision-making on the economy. In the absence of data-driven decisions on the workforce and business activity, the Government risks destabilising the very fragile balance between saving lives and livelihoods.

The private sector’s howls of protest and pain in response to the Government’s announcement of roll-back measures from today should be seriously analysed in order to shape strategic interventions appropriate to the Trinidad and Tobago situation. After all, this is what worked for us against Covid-19. The prescriptive template developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) was calibrated and adjusted to take into account the state of T&T’s public health system and available resources lying idle outside the system. Out of this came the parallel health system for tackling Covid-19 while insulating the existing health system. The fact that the Eastern Caribbean has so far been spared the worst of the pandemic allowed T&T to respond with a certain amount of ease.

By contrast, the economy, a creature of great complexity and all-encompassing scope, has been largely uninsulated from the destructive impact of the pandemic, not only in T&T but the world over. The focus has quite properly been on cushioning the most vulnerable through the widespread distribution of State resources. However, the scatter-shot release of grants as needs arose demonstrate that even in that single response the Government was not being led by data but by the cries of public need. The great risk to the economy would be to adopt a roll-out plan without a precise understanding of how the parts of the economy work together to keep the engine turning over at a rate that keeps the economy afloat.

The private sector’s pleas for urgent release following the Prime Minister’s detailing of relaxation measures were surprising given the extent of private sector representation on the team charged with developing the Government’s Roadmap for Recovery. It should, for example, be clear to the Government that advising small businesses to tide themselves over with loans, no matter how low-interest, will result in many not returning when the regulations are lifted. No business facing uncertain consumer demand, especially those operating on small margins, will risk the burden of additional loans. In this context, DOMA’s proposals for State support for rent payments for the SME sector, interest subsidy on business loans, and relief on electricity charges are all worthy of serious consideration.

For many in the business sector, especially in small businesses, the walls are closing in as resources dwindle and disappear while the prospect of imminent lockdown-relief recedes. For now, the most unimpacted are permanent staff whose salaries are being paid on schedule whether working from home or not. However, even these fortunate ones are not guaranteed to survive the shake-out when employers, including the Government, begin to calculate the pandemic’s full impact on their viability as a result of both local and global developments.

Negotiating a path between life and livelihood is a feat that will require the skills of tightrope-walking if the patients are to be kept alive.

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It has taken over a century but even the loudest sceptics are now convinced that climate change is real and happening before our eyes.

I don’t know if it has yet dawned on Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her colleagues in the Opposition United National Congress that their ill-conceived motion in Parliament, which sought to trigger the impeachment of the President of the Republic, has backfired so badly that it seems set to terminate Persad-Bissessar’s political career, and possibly eliminate the UNC as a political force in the country.

I have repeatedly described the country’s Constitution as “deformed”. It ensures no true accountability to the people, renders the Parliament supine to the Cabinet and makes the nation vulnerable to the excessive power and influence of the Prime Minister.

Many readers will recall the political controversies in which President Anthony Carmona, the immediate predecessor of our current President, was involved arising out of the purported exercise of powers that he thought he had.

As a result, citizens hoped that the presidency would return to calmer waters, not made turbulent by involvement of the office of President in the agendas of the politicians.

The issue of the Speaker’s guidelines has nothing to do with the UNC or PNM governments, but rather the upholding of the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the Rule of Law.

What transpired in the Parliament on Thursday is a grave, deliberate and malicious attack on the Constitution and a blatant disregard for the Rule of Law.

For years the population thought July 27, 1990, was the darkest day in the history of Trinidad and Tobago, when armed insurrectionists stormed the hallowed halls of Parliament.

On that day some 31 years ago, parliamentarians who were trapped in the Red House cringed in horror that at any moment their lives could be snuffed out by a bunch of gun-toting brigands.