“The fact is that while it should not be all about the money, the real truth is that it’s all about the money, without which the poorest people, including the lowest-paid workers, cannot afford to live by day, far less pray by night.”
I said it before and am saying it again: COVID or not, the ruling party and opposition both have the next General Elections to win and come Hell or High Water, that is their main focus. Not that they don’t care about COVID-19.
The government indeed called for and the Opposition agreed to a political truce and a national coalition in the war against the virus, both supporting the Emergency measures enacted in parliament to allow the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer to be in full charge of everything COVID during a State of National Emergency with a ten-hour curfew for periods that can range from one week to one month and up to 90 days – and the Prime Minister says he’s planning for six months.
When COVID was announced to the world by the Chinese on the last day of 2019, the next General Elections in Saint Lucia was 18 months away, with all signs the government may have been contemplating an early poll.
Back then, the virus didn’t even yet have a name and speculation was that the ruling United Workers Party (UWP) might have considered bucking the trend of three consecutive regime changes in the last three General Elections by calling the next poll (constitutionally due after June 6, 2021) one year early in June 2020. But up came Corona and bucked whatever plan may have been in place.
The UWP and the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) agreed publicly to a political truce over the corona virus, but very little has been said at the party levels to suggest the truce even exists.
The party operatives in government do everything to carry-on with business as usual, Cabinet ministers in parliament berate and try to belittle opposition MPs as much as possible on Covid matters, the government presents a normal pre-election budget while being thrifty on accounting for Covid-related funds and the Prime Minister is being called upon to account for Economic Citizenship accounts at a time when government is appealing to its employees to accept bonds as part-payments.
The parliamentary opposition and the SLP continues to expose incidents that would under any normal circumstances amount to politicization of Covid affairs like in distribution of food relief supplies and what it considers unproductive approaches that would not advance the fight against the invisible common enemy, only on each occasion to be reminded by invisible ruling party commentators through social media that when in office they did the same, or repeating the boasts of ministers in parliament that Saint Lucia was ‘the most prepared’ for COVID-19 across the Caribbean.
With the World health Organization (WHO) warning that COVID may never go away, it is utterly senseless for any government anywhere to claim to have been ‘ready’ for COVID-19 and while whoever might have decided by whatever measurement that Trinidad & Tobago was ‘the most prepared’ country in the Caribbean or the world, such a claim pales into insignificance in the face of the frailty of the reality that Port of Spain, like Spain and Italy and like saint Lucia, have absolutely no idea what is the real state of the nation as far as the level of COVID-19 penetration.
Neither country has done what Cuba has started doing and Venezuela has been doing from Day One: undertaking to test every person in the country to get a sure determination of the level of infection and to accumulate the data required to make decisions on a national level based on the empirical data collected during the national testing exercise.
In the interest of the wider national good, every country should do like China did from Day One: shut the country down for just how long it will take to test everyone, which, in the CARICOM context, can take less than a week – and in Saint Lucia, just one weekend if a national test is made mandatory under the emergency laws.
But instead, most governments prefer to remain in the comfort zone of putting statistics to work instead of acting based on healthy facts, figures and science.
I read the official statements offering statistics and I conclude the government has the best Spin Doctor (Remember that term?) on the Covid ball. By the time you get to the local figures you have been so saturated with the overwhelming global, continental and regional figures as to easily conclude that ‘We’re not doing that bad at all…’ And where the reports were originally only about the numbers of persons tested positive, hospitalized, who had died or were in quarantine, they more recently started to involve the larger numbers of ‘negative’ cases; and when the first person was hospitalized, that lone point of the fraction was lost in the translation of the stats; and the number of persons in quarantine sounded like they remained stable while every amount released was replaced by new cases rounded-up through contact tracing.
The number of negative cases being sent back from testing in Trinidad & Tobago seems to suggest that contact tracing is leading to many more people being quarantined than expected, leading to government needing to rent more hotels and guest houses as quarantine centers, as well as the natural and cultural factors of fear, panic and anxiety in the communities where persons traced and quarantines are known through the gossip grapevine or by their mere absence from home and/or work.
And then there’s the troublesome question of the number of persons tested in CARICOM nations, none of which has a completely self-sufficient testing mechanism and most (if not all) of which have to depend on WHO, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) guidelines, the latter based in Trinidad & Tobago and overwhelmed by samples pouring-in from Caribbean capitals by day and night as the virus continues its spread and nations continue to hold-back on taking measures considered politically incorrect or strategically suicidal to their political survival during and beyond COVID-19.
With less than 1,000 tests done in Saint Lucia with a population of just over 170,000, the results cannot be considered national. Instead, they are a reflection of the number of cases actually tested, which is 170 times less than the sum national total – and by my arithmetic, algebraic and all other mathematical calculations I learned after Long Division and Fractions at primary and secondary school, this tells me you cannot even start counting that as a reflection of a national whole, far less as a factor on which decisions are taken, made or based.
I continue to insist that statistical demagoguery, however masked under Covid cover, will only worsen our case, it will hinder rather than help our battles in the war against this invisible virus and with the political directorate very much aware of the dangers on the horizon, this is not a time to try to please all at the cost of all.
People who have worked for their salaries are being told ‘It’s not about the money’ and they should instead pray that COVID-19 does not take us away. But the fact is that while it should not be all about the money, the real truth is that it’s all about the money, without which the poorest people, including the lowest-paid workers, cannot afford to live by day, far less pray by night.
Government’s finances are in trouble everywhere but it has been established that small island developing states dependent on tourism, like many if not most in CARICOM, will be the hardest hit economically, with the hardest chances of surviving without the sympathy and good will of the nations of the world we/they owe. That’s why the WHO Director General, Pope Francis and the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) over a month ago called for forgiveness and cancellation of the debts of small island developing states and to give them all the aid they need, which is but a mere fraction of what’s available to the richest nations that can afford, but most if not all of which have decided to turn inward and shut their windows on their neighbours and the rest of the world.
In such a situation, parties planning for General Elections due in Covid time are proceeding with business as usual, hoping for the best with COVID-19 while planning, in some cases, for the worst elections ever to be fought for the power of government.
It happened in Guyana leading to the March 2 General Elections there, with the vote count still under way – and at the very start – all of eleven weeks after voters cast their ballot in what was determined by all international, continental, hemispheric and regional observer groups to be a free and fair election, except that the result was being interfered with in the most transparent effort to steal an election they ever saw or heard of.
As far back as the December 2019 elections in Dominica – before COVID-19 was officially discovered in China – it was being predicted that the next general Elections in saint Lucia will; be not only the Mother and Father of All Elections, but also possibly the nastiest. The prophet was crucified for his prediction, but all the evidence is that the ruling party (like it should) insists it cannot afford to lose the next election, while the opposition insists that it’s not only it’s ‘turn’ (according to change trends set by the last election results in 2006, 2011 and 2016) but that government’s handling of COVID-19 thus far offers sufficient reason to argue why it should be changed at the next poll.
I have said before and repeat here that if the governments put as much effort into a national survey to determine how many people are affected by COVID-19 as they do every five years to ensure every new 18-year-old is on the Voters List, the Caribbean and the world would be in a better place today, as governments will have had empirical data on which to plan the future battles in the continuing war against the most invisible enemy the world has had to battle on the global health battlefield.
Politics has always been given a bad name by politicians who always claim not to be politicians and that their political actions are not political when done in government. The determination of politicians to have General Elections with or without COVID-19 was most recently made crystal clear in the case of Portugal, where government and opposition agreed to hold the ballot by postal vote – yes, through the Post office – than wait for the virus to go.
Caribbean politicians are ingenious enough to develop mechanisms for any election due in any season. Rain or shine, the national good will take a walk for ballots to talk — and this will be supported by all sides, whether in or out of a state of emergency. I’ve heard of electronic balloting and supervised house-to-house voting, even asking FLOW and Digicel to provide enough phones for every voter at home to allow them to vote altogether, on-the-dot, at midday on Election Day, the results to appear on the voter’s screen faster than in real time, ‘at the speed of light’ as my young friend with microchips in his DNA told me (yet again) this week.
But to end where I started, I continue to insist that elections are a magnet for politicians everywhere – including countries with set election dates — who see them as the only chance of staying in or acceding to power through electoral horse races in which the first past the post wins all the prizes and all losers remain losers until the next race – five years away, by the horse-racing rule book.
It is in that context that I predict that every election across CARICOM due during COVID-19 will take place and the how governments handle or handled the battle against the virus will feature in every campaign, at whatever cost.
Elections postponed because of COVID-19? Not even Donald Trump wants that, so don’t count on it anywhere in the Caribbean – except in Guyana, which is very likely the next Georgetown imbroglio in the continuing case of the longest election count in the history of mankind with an interim administration in office that is showing nothing interim about its intentions to remain in office come what may at a time when the Land of El Dorado is not only paved with gold and diamonds, but drowning in oil money.
COVID-19 is influencing decisions by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is ways that affect the speed of the count, with the national COVID battle led by the most powerful man in the still-ruling APNU+AFC, who is also leading the ruling party’s efforts to change its electoral loss into a win by creation of new post-election facts based on claimed pre-election ‘facts’, but after-the-fact.
It’s already argued that if both major parties claim to have won then neither should have fear of a count that is free and fair. But it would appear that the ruling party that contested the elections and never complained during the vote no longer feels its participation was free and fair and is now living in mortal fear of losing despite having fought its hardest to win.
2020 and 2021 Caribbean elections must be watched closely as of now.
COVID-19 is already a hot political topic in Saint Lucia, with temperatures flaring a heating-up in mainstream and social media on everything from how or whether the government is accounting for Covid expenses to claims the opposition is unfairly using COVID-19 to hammer the government ahead of elections.
It’ll be the same everywhere else and some governments might also be quite willing to pass the COVID-19 buck to the opposition by striving to live-up to the Covid-inspired changes in life by going all out, not to win but to lose.
But given the nature of Caribbean politics and (the vast majority of) Caribbean politicians — as we know and have always known it and them in the Caribbean, even that might be even more abnormal than COVID-19 itself.