Indecision! Gov't fiddles while economy burns!

Editorial

Indecision! Gov't fiddles while economy burns!

Monday, May 18, 2020

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It seems clear that this Government has never heard of the term there is danger in delay.

The Administration is fiddling while the economy is hurtling towards a crash, saying it's going to reopen the country's borders, but refusing to set a firm date on which plans can be made.

The tourism industry, which brings in the bulk of the country's foreign exchange earnings, represents 34 per cent of contribution to GDP. When indirect contribution is factored it is closer to 70 per cent, coming from the mouth of the finance minister himself.

The industry is bleeding an estimated US$14 million to US$18 million a day, while hotels and attractions remain closed and on the verge of going out of business.

Every Jamaican agrees that it is necessary to tread with the utmost caution in reopening the economy because of the novel coronavirus. No one wishes to squander the gains we have made at great cost to contain the virus.

However, as a people, we are intelligent enough to know that for every day that the country remains under lockdown, the threat of more job losses, business closures, starvation, and chaos grows with greater certainty.

It cannot be beyond us to ride and whistle at the same time. We hope that this is not the early sign of an inept Government. We have made the point before that there is every likelihood the virus will be with us for the foreseeable future. To believe that we can wait until all traces of the virus have left is foolhardy. After all this time, we still have remnants of the AIDS, Ebola, H1N1, severe acute respiratory syndrome, Middle East respiratory syndrome, and influenza viruses. Moreover, Jamaicans are being slaughtered in far greater numbers than those dying from the COVID-19 disease, without the economy being locked down.

We must be able to continue to enforce the COVID-19 protocol — washing of hands, wearing masks, social distancing, contact tracing, anwd testing — that will allow us to keep on top of the outbreak.

The Government is clearly underestimating the magnitude of the economic losses and the danger that poses, having set no date for reopening. Saying it may be May, June, or July does not constitute a date. Airlines cannot schedule flights on the basis of May, June, or July.

We have already lost the best months for tourism earnings, which are March and April. If the Government moves swiftly to put things in place, similar to what the private sector has to be doing to conduct business safely, we should be able to reopen by June 1.

Instead, what it has been doing is dilly-dallying, which borders on abuse of the tens of thousands of people sent home, some without any salary and no means of buying food, paying rent or utilities, or any other of the many basic needs.

We note that no Cabinet member has suffered a similar pay cut. All this while the business sector is bitterly complaining about the lack of foreign exchange to prevent production from grinding to a halt.

What we fear will happen is that airlines will not take us seriously and guests will lose confidence in our ability to resume operations any time soon. In any event, the numbers are going to be small at first. By the time we begin to ramp up the numbers it will be October, which is a weak month for guests.

The Government must find the courage to do what is in the best interest of the Jamaican people, and that is reopening the economy before the financial crisis becomes a far worse crisis than the health crisis.

We cannot continue to live with the Government's indecision, indecision, indecision!


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