Whichever side of the political divide one may reside, the Mia Mottley administration must be given a very high grade for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far.
There might or might not have been missteps along the way during 2020. But the reality is that no administration around the globe has had to deal with a pandemic of this magnitude over the past 100 years and errors are likely to occur.
It would seem that Government has done its best over the past 10 months to minimize those errors, protect the health of citizens and keep the economy afloat as best as it can with the reality that the tourism sector on which we all depend has been severely undermined.
While other nations – some tourism-dependent, others not so – have kept their borders closed for significant periods of time, Barbados has generally kept its available for business. This has been much to the gratitude of regional and international visitors – the cruise industry in particular. That COVID-19 cases have been manageable in this rather welcoming environment has been a credit to our frontline workers, especially those in the health sector.
Minister of Health Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic has risen above all others in the Mottley Cabinet. Indeed, if ever there was a Deputy Prime Minister in waiting and deserving of that accreditation by dint of service to country and political leader, one would find it difficult to look past Lieutenant Colonel Bostic.
But Government must be mindful of squandering the gains made by recent occurrences. A spike in the daily COVID-19 cases is cause for concern. Breaches in protocols, inclusive of quarantine requirements for visitors, are cause for even greater worry.
It is a Catch-22 situation Government faces and striking a balance with zero compromise on health safety and accommodating tourists is absolutely required. There have been increased visitor arrivals to Barbados in recent times and authorities must ensure they have the capacity to deal with the numbers in terms of testing and verification of health documents which travellers may produce.
With no reported or confirmed indication that there is community spread of the virus, it is not far-fetched to consider that many from North America and the United Kingdom, and other European destinations, might view Barbados as a possible temporary safe haven or escape route from the massive spread of the virus in their own homelands.
However, to Government’s credit, its well-oiled public relations arm has done a good job of informing Barbadians about pertinent information with respect to infected numbers, recoveries, protocol breaches, volume and availability of testing equipment and the like.
The nature of the pandemic as well as the danger it poses have left Government with few options other than to be utterly candid with the Barbadian populace. Governance on this score has generally been quite transparent.
But there are other areas where Government has been rather evasive and far from transparent in this age of COVID-19, and this relates to the economy, spending, unemployment, plans for growth and the debt level. It seems that Government, like most political organisations, is deliberately attempting to control and temper the narrative on bad news while being quite open on the good. We would suggest that the administration takes the Barbadian populace into its complete confidence and provide unvarnished truths and transparency in all aspects of governance to which it was overwhelming entrusted just under three years ago.
The previous Democratic Labour Party government was often accused by the then Opposition Barbados Labour Party of being too swift and comfortable in using the advent of the 2007 global economic recession as the crutch on which it rested most of its failures.
Just as the David Thompson/Freundel Stuart administrations did not create the global economic recession, the Mottley Government did not usher in the coronavirus pandemic.
We do not suggest that the present Government use the pandemic to make wholesale excuses but Barbadians will judge this administration on its responses to the crisis. And Government must be forthright in everything it does, not only on the health front but also on the economic front.
Thus, there is no need to hide or be defensive on the country’s unemployment figures, whether in the public or private sector. Transparency must be given true meaning. In a period of austerity and retrenchments, Government must spell out in detail what the many highly paid consultants occupyng government offices or visiting ATMs at months-end, are actually doing while adding to the public debt. Transparency must be given true meaning. So far most of our economic responses to the ongoing crisis have been driven by International Monetary Fund dictates. How many consultative brains are required to borrow money, to shift debt or forego the repayment of debt? A quick mathematical process here still equates to substantial debt, even if left for a future generation. Transparency must be given true meaning.
Government must spell out in detail what plans it has to breathe life into our productive sectors. Have financial concessions given to the tourism industry resulted in the short-term benefits desired? What are the long-term prospects? Government’s future strategy cannot be one principally of more taxation, increased public sector retrenchment, fattening consultants or streamlining social services and entitlements currently enjoyed by Barbadians. Government has been stellar in its conversations with the populace on most aspects of the health issues related to COVID-19. But it has played much politics on the inner, intricate economic details. No need for it. Transparency here must be given true meaning.