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Balancing individual, sectoral and national needs

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In the midst of the gloom and doom we experience daily, it is an imperative that we make room for positive thoughts and development for all is not lost, not by any means.

Thus at the end of last week, the severely weakened West Indies cricket team shocked the entire global community to score almost 400 runs in the fourth innings of the 1st Test against Bangladesh, to score an improbable victory. Only four teams have won with higher fourth innings totals in the entire history of Test cricket and only Brian Lara’s West Indies of 2003 against Australia have scored more to win a Test match for the West Indies.

The focus of this column is not cricket, but I think that it is instructive that so accustomed have we become to continued failure on the cricket field that we seem almost afraid, certainly reluctant, to take cheer in what should be for us a most positive development. It is quite true that the West Indies could end up losing the second Test, but this does not negate the magnificence of the achievement nor dampen our resolve to use it as a stepping stone forward. We must at least revel in the accomplishment and use it to build confidence as we approach new challenges.

In more ways than one our responses say a lot about the new “us”. Even if we can see light at the end of the end of the tunnel, we seem more inclined to look back at the dark end and to doubt whether we can emerge from the darkness. There appears to be growing within us, rapidly at that, a refusal to think positively, to grasp reality and in our commitment to address our fundamental weaknesses, build the confidence that we can succeed. In so doing we make ourselves more and more easy prey to all kinds of naysayers, false prophets and downright harbingers of gloom.

The two major challenges facing our country today are the COVID pandemic, not only rapidly spreading but becoming deadly, and how to deploy our meagre resources to deal with the threats we face as in our 2021 Budget. Both are related and intertwined, new situations for which there is no easy answers. Rather than face up to our new realities and draw on our proven history of resilience in the face of adversity, we appear to be succumbing to self-doubt and to be slipping into an atmosphere of distrust and division. Instead of bonding together, recognizing that differences in approach will exist but which are not insurmountable, we fall prey to the defeatist lines.

It is in that context that our responses to both the worsening COVID situation and in turn, the budgetary response to it are framed. With the COVID casualties alarmingly frightening and worse, with the death count now a reality, panic is spreading like wildfire. We are not only openly questioning the strategies of our tried and tested professionals, but falling prey to strident calls for a substantial “lockdown”, ignoring both the nature of our society itself and the social and economic implications of such drastic action.

The 2021 Budget is coming under fire, not just from the usual political quarters, but from different interests groups, worried about the impact of the crisis on their members and advocating greater spending to alleviate the plight of their members. Two fundamental aspects of public policy must be borne in mind. First, the COVID pandemic has already forced government into major additional spending, both on health needs as well as social and economic responses. Yet the second aspect is that the very nature of the impact of COVID on the economy is itself drastically reducing both governmental as well as national income. To these two we must add a third factor, that of the uncertainty of the length and extent of the COVID crisis.

In light of all this, it is unfortunate that the crisis perhaps resulted in a restricted consultation period with the social actors. We cannot ignore that there would have been challenges in this regard, yet such is the nature of the crisis that it demanded even more consultation than normal. We can understandably blame COVID, but it must be remembered that the extent and nature of the pre-Budget consultations have been reducing in recent years.

The result is there for all to see. Almost daily there are statements by various economic sectors about the plight of their members and the failure of the Budget to deal with their needs. All well and good, but the reality is that while needs continue to grow, the pot available is not growing at the same pace. Additionally, we must be careful that each additional expense of meeting individual needs does not undermine the efforts at stimulating the economy, a fundamental need.

Perhaps it is time for an initiative to bring the representatives of all these sectors together to discuss the crisis and the way forward. We have to balance the needs of the various sectors and not just take sectoral positions. We are all in this together and it is our responsibility, not just to make demands but to come up with creative ideas to grow the pie, take care of the most vulnerable and meet the crisis collectively.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.