After seven months, the initial reassurance provided by the government’s swift announcement of a suite of income support measures to cushion the impact of Covid-19 is disappearing under a grinding slowdown of the economy.
While official data remains unavailable, the evidence of recession is everywhere in the almost daily reports of layoffs, business closures, rooms for rent and distressed properties for sale. One telling area of growth is the bailiff business.
The Government’s proactive response in March, which had won widespread praise, has now given way to policy drift. Not only is there no clear path to the Road to Recovery, but the Government seems out of touch with the situation on the ground. As a media house in direct and daily touch with the public, this newspaper gets a first-hand view of the desperation of a growing number of people who are being pushed beyond the margins of poverty. More than ever, the Ministry of Social Development and Family Affairs needs to get into the field and help the families who are unable to negotiate its bureaucracy. People are hurting, many of them single mothers on whom Covid-19 is levying a disproportionate impact.
While many public-spirited persons are stepping forward to assist, the scale of the problem requires the active involvement and leadership of the Government. Experts everywhere agree there is no expiry date for this pandemic and that countries must shift their responses to finding a way to live with it by balancing lives and livelihoods. As the experience of several European countries shows, the strategy of sharp lockdown followed by sharp relaxation is producing diminishing returns which exacerbate the economic impact and send a growing number of persons into a downward spiral.
This situation calls for a very strategic management of the different components of the national economy and society. As the overall manager, the Prime Minister needs to be on top of the situation by managing the interplay among the various portfolio elements which impact on the national response to Covid-19.
We support the position by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley that the Government must be led by the science. However, that is only the point of departure for a strategy that integrates all the other areas of Cabinet portfolios. His recent singling out of boat rides to Buccoo Reef and the Caroni Bird Sanctuary for exemptions to the public health regulations, for example, lacked a policy basis, which suggested a level of arbitrariness.
It is evident that the financial fusillade that the Government unleashed against Covid-19 in March has sucked the air out of the economic cushion. Whether it was the most efficient use of the country’s limited funds is quite another matter, which is why the Covid relief package should be audited. It is hard to forget Minister Camille Robinson-Regis allocating $30 million to churches to distribute as they saw fit, with the only accountability being to God.
With the largesse gone and no end yet in sight for the pandemic, the future depends almost exclusively on the Government’s ability to navigate the intricate road ahead.