There are two issues that face us as a nation and as part of a regional grouping that is still dreaming of the CSME. We first have to contain this killer pandemic, bearing in mind that it will be with us for quite a while.
Additionally, we have to begin to look ahead, to balance health and economic factors as we think of ‘Opening Up’. We also have to monitor what is happening outside of the region bearing in mind that we are part of a global village and can perhaps also learn or at least consider, what is happening elsewhere. Let us be guided by the fact that Wuhan where it all started, has now to contend with some new infections and are planning to test 11 million of its citizens. I state this to remind ourselves that it is not all over and will not be for some time and as we look forward, to step up testing for that dreaded virus. We should also take note that in some countries and areas of the United States they have been attempting to ‘open up’, while there continues to be a spike in cases with the virus and also increasing deaths.
I understand the concerns of governments, especially those of us with weak economies, of the need to get things going again to preserve our economies, as vulnerable as they are. This whole crisis has to remind us that as we look at the governance of our countries, we have to demand and expect more from those we place in the seats of governance. No more Mr Nice and popular guy, but increasingly what he/she brings to the table and also the person’s track record. We have to insist that those in government understand their role and remind them that public servants are not there to genuflect to their whims and fancies. Too often have we seen well established and reputable public servants, quake in their boots for fear of contradicting those in positions of power. This could even be a matter of perception, but it leads inevitably to distrust of what comes from the mouths of those normally well-meaning persons.
Hopefully, CARICOM, will produce protocols to guide any effort to return to a state of normalcy, if that can ever be possible in the short term. I stress CARICOM, because its members are our trading partners and it will be disastrous if we follow different paths, claiming that we are, when all is said and done, sovereign states. What needs to be done quickly is to begin to conceive of the world beyond COVID-19, because it is not going to be business as usual either in the short term or long term. I stated in my last column that some of our neighbours are beginning to establish Task Forces to look at the way forward. Our large dependency on Tourism as a region has to be looked at again. It is estimated, according to David Jessop, that our regional food import bill between now and 2022 is estimated to reach between US$8 – 10 billion. A staggering amount! Should we not be putting more emphasis on feeding ourselves? This will also involve a large education component since we have to get rid of the mindset that what comes from outside is better. Ironically at this time we are beginning to talk about the benefits of our local produce in building our immunity systems!
To use Tourism as an example, have we begun to conceive of what the Tourist industry will look like in the foreseeable future, that is, if we are able to get it off the ground? What will people who want to visit our countries expect of us, particularly regarding health and security? With limited travel in the foreseeable future, what will attract visitors to our country? What of agriculture, not only feeding ourselves, but having a greater integration between agriculture and tourism in terms of feeding our visitors? There are many questions on the table and there cannot be business as usual!
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian