Safety Before Profits: It Can't Always Be About Money!

Safety Before Profits: It Can't Always Be About Money!

Michael Diamond

Friday, December 04, 2020

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The festive season is upon us and we have some tough decisions to make. Life or Debt? These are the only options before Jamaicans. Nonetheless, the Government continues to bow to big businesses over the safety and welfare of our people. Curfews are being curtailed to accommodate commercial enterprises, rather than addressing this pandemic directly. Social distancing and restrictive movements are based on how much profits businesses can make. Instead, the focus ought to be on the safety of consumers. COVID-19 is spiking in more developed countries with far greater resources, and yet the powers that stand in Jamaica are choosing to flout the safety protocols to accommodate commercial enterprises.

We can all agree that we are grappling with the devastating effects of this global pandemic. We can also agree that it has created tremendous opportunities for building a better Jamaica. From improving service delivery via the digital platform to the digitisation of outmoded government services. More favourable outcomes can be realised, despite the significant financial burdens on an already gloomy economy. These selective curfews can lead to irreversible economic and health consequences on a national and individual level for our people.

Consumers have unfortunately developed unhealthy consumption habits during the pandemic, signalling that there will be even greater burden on the health sector, services and resources. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading causes of death and disability, affecting more people each year than all other causes combined. NCDs are lifestyle diseases related to our consumption of unhealthy foods. The main culprits are ultra-processed foods, smoking, and overeating of sugar and salt. These conditions made it easier to succumb to COVID-19.

Given the spread of COVID-19, the ability of Jamaica to effectively address and respond to NCDs has been impacted and proven to be problematic for people living with NCDs. Would it be too audacious to suggest that the Government address NCDs with the same level of attention given to preserving the wealth of the greedy? Let us preserve the lives of the victims of over-commercialisation of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods, and sugar sweeten beverages (SSBs). This can be significantly achieved with proper food labelling, public education about NCDs, and building a better health system with integrated NCD services post-COVID-19.

The irony is that during the pandemic there has been increased demand for agricultural goods. More focus on the benefits of backyard gardening ought to be encouraged to access healthier alternatives to junk foods and improve our health. Being more physically active and saving money. We would also be eating fresh fruits, vegetables and less ultraprocessed foods helping more families become and stay healthy. This isn't quantum physics yet it seems to be a challenge for us here in Jamaica.

Identifying and effectively dealing with the social determinants of health is vital to producing a vibrant and sustainable economy — something we must work towards. The government's short-sighted solution is to extend curfew hours in the hope of manipulating consumer spending. The average individual knows that extending curfew just to have consumers spending more during the Christmas holiday will not benefit the Jamaican economy. The fact is, most of the businesses peddling Christmas paraphernalia are not owned by Jamaicans nor do the owners celebrate Christmas. Those who profit call it good business, yet in reality, it's utter foolishness. What they won't tell you is that it is called the “silly season” for reasons that are quite self-explanatory- people spend on silly things at this time of year. Hence, complaining after about being in debt and broke for the new year.

Timing is key and these businesses know exactly how to use it to take advantage of our consumers. These businesses calling for the curfew to be extended are preying upon the gullibility of the masses buying nonessential items at this time of the year amidst a pandemic where the threat of a third surge is looming. These are the same businesses that were illegally price-gouging much-needed sanitizing products and essentials goods. If these business owners truly cared about the greater good of us Jamaicans, they would not be focused on dumping their pre-Covid-19 inventory and holiday surplus on the public. Consumers should not have to pay for their lack of foresight during this pandemic just to help these businesses unload their inventory and fatten their foreign bank accounts by end of the year. We must ask ourselves: How does this benefit my family, and my country?

Today, with the help of an erratic Government, these same greedy individuals are willing to put greater lives at risk just for money. Money that will no doubt leave our shores to their country of origin. What is the example being set when the so-called protocols are shifted to accommodate big business, while the rest of us bear the brunt of this disregard for life? Many Jamaicans are complacent not taking the pandemic seriously enough due to how the government keeps bowing to pressure from the likes of the tourism sector and now big business. Sadly, it's all about the money, never about protecting and saving lives. Therefore, unless we are going to have a full-fledged lockdown of the country once and for all to tackle the pandemic, we might as well open up the country to pre-corona days and let the chips fall where they may. This wishy-washy response with manipulated curfews is disingenuous and must cease immediately.

No manipulating of curfews, no grand market, no New Year's festivity from the public purse. Let us direct those funds to assist the most vulnerable amongst us to secure essential items during this phase of the pandemic. There will be time enough for making money when we get through the pandemic. There will be more people alive to spend. After all, a healthy population equals a healthy economy. So, for now, lock it down, “tan ah yuh yaad!” We are choose life over debt.

Michael Diamond is president of the Consumers Intervention of Jamaica. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or consumersinterventionjamaica@gmail.com.


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