We shall overcome COVID-19...

We shall overcome COVID-19...

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, October 25, 2020

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One foot isn't enough to walk with. — Xhosa proverb, South Africa

 

“A ghastly catastrophe,” that is how Dr David Nabarro, special envoy of the World Health Organization director general on COVID-19, described the pandemic that has brought the world to its knees.

Recently, Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), while addressing a high-level virtual meeting, organised by the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America and the Caribbean (AACCLA), said, “If we consider the average rate of growth of the past decade, of 1.8 per cent, regional GDP [gross domestic product] will only return to 2019 levels in 2025.”

It all sounds very grim.

The easy response is to throw our hands in the air and say, “We give up.” That is the refuge of cowards. It is hardly a practical solution either. We will have to find ingenious ways to meet the inevitable challenges and overcome them. We cannot fail!

We are a resilient people. We have overcome many seemingly insurmountable challenges before. And, I think, we will overcome the challenges of COVID-19 too.

I remember when Hurricane Gilbert, packed with all its fury and ferocity, ravaged Jamaica on September 12, 1988. The roof of the house in which I lived flew off like confetti in the wind. After Gilbert's temper subsided, like most people, I ventured outside to survey its destruction. For as far as the eye could see there was devastation. Agricultural plants and vegetation were all flattened. Board, zinc, and roof shingles hugged each other in mud. Many of our precious animals were dead.

I remember seeing folks with their hands tightly clasped over their heads – this was a physical signature of extreme worry. Nonetheless, soon after folks had surveyed the damage left by a terrible and unwanted visitor, we diligently recovered all that was salvageable. No words were needed. The recovery had started.

Two months after Gilbert pummelled Jamaica, basic services such as electricity and water had returned to most parts of the island. In St Mary South Eastern and adjoining constituencies roofs could smile again. They were adorned with new sheets of zinc. Highgate Square was a beehive of activity. The authoritative bells of schools were alive again. In Richmond, the wonderful and familiar aroma of bread from Chong's Bakery perfumed the town. The hubbub of human and vehicular traffic had returned.

The tintinnabulation of church bells early Sunday morning had returned too. Sunday was a menu of pleasant things. Church on Sundays was a weekly refuelling of our spiritual tanks by: “He that hath made us...” [Psalm 100:3].

Dinner was usually served early after worship. Curious ones like me thereafter scouted the community, listening and observing the happenings. The stories of Gilbert were still fresh. Heroic acts were recounted with gusto and tragic episodes were opportunities for empathy. Gilbert made me understand that we are a people of great resolve. We overcome challenges.

Election vs pandemic

Parish municipal elections are due next month, but the law provides for a delay in the polls for up to 90 days. Some political pundits have expressed the view that the Holness Administration should play the advantage card and hold the elections in November. Maybe they do not realise that we are in the midst of community spread.

At the time of writing this article there are just about 40 million COVID-19 infections globally. Over a million people in 189 countries have died, and just about 30 million people have recovered from the disease.

Here, at home, we are racing towards 9,000 infections, and close to 200 of our citizens have died from COVID-19. I think the Administration needs to focus like a laser beam on ramping up the measures that have been set in place to slow community spread of the coronavirus and simultaneously fast-track measures to steady the economy from further rapid decline. We are in uncharted waters and the waves are getting rougher and rougher.

Consider this: 'Jamaica's economic decline could worsen'. ( Jamaica Observer, October 15, 2020). The news item said, among other things: “Jamaica's economic decline could worsen given the latest projections of a steep fall in global growth this year by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“As the global economy struggles to recover from the COVID-19-induced recession, its worst collapse in nearly a century, the IMF estimates that the global economy will shrink 4.4 per cent for 2020, which would represent the worst annual plunge since the Great Depression of the 1930s.”

I think the preservation of lives and livelihoods are priority number one, two, and three in these dire circumstances. A recent study conducted by UNICEF and the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) found that eight in every 10 households suffered income losses. On average, families lost 46 per cent of income, while lower-income households suffered a 49 per cent loss.

I doubt local government elections, which have traditionally been low-keyed and very poorly supported, is on the minds of people who are scratching their heads wondering where their next meal will be coming from. I doubt they will, but if the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) holds the local government elections next month it will reflect very poorly on the entire leadership of that party. In the midst of community spread, it would fly in the face of science, defy common sense, and become fodder for those who say the Administration is not serious about controlling the spread of the coronavirus infection in our country.

People need to be assured that the Government, not just the Administration, but, Government, Opposition included, is pulling out all the stops to serve their immediate needs. More than at any other time since political independence, citizens must be convinced that our politics exist to serve us and not the reverse. That is one of the surest ways to massively reduce voter apathy in Jamaica.

Some virologists and related experts say the second wave of the pandemic is several times deadlier than some governments had expected. We cannot ignore reality.

PNP leadership battle 2.0

Just over a year ago the People's National Party (PNP) held a bitter leadership race. Its insides gushed out on to the public pavement. I was not surprised. For decades some in the media and significant sections of academia perpetrated a myth that the PNP had inherent mechanisms and long-held traditions which enabled it to settle internal disputes almost seamlessly.

Many years ago I said on radio and wrote in this space that their narrative was patently false and without foundation, given the PNP's history of disputes and how they had been settled or not settled. The political bombardment launched by either camp during the 2019 leadership race proved that I was right. The political eviscerating of the 83-year-old PNP left Norman Manley's party anaemic. It was a spectacle.

Some pundits say the extremely divisive battle between now former Member of Parliament (MP) for Manchester Central Peter Bunting and now outgoing PNP president and Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips was one of the lowest moments in the history of the PNP. The deadly political jousting between Bunting and Phillips helped to set the stage for the historic trouncing by the JLP last month.

Fourteen days from today the PNP will have another leadership contest, this time between the seemingly reluctant presidential candidate Mark Golding, Opposition spokesperson on finance and MP for St Andrew Southern, and Lisa Hanna, Opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade and MP for St Ann South Eastern. Hanna retained her seat in a magisterial/judicial recount by 32 votes. This constituency was formerly one of the safest PNP seats it the country.

Recent findings by veteran pollster Bill Johnson indicate that Hanna is favoured to cross the finish line before Golding. However, the delegates of the PNP are the ultimate judge and jury when it comes to choosing their president. It will be interesting to see if the polls accord with their wishes.

As the delegates are wooed by Hanna's coterie, which some pundits are calling OnePNP 2.0, and Golding's clique, which some commentators have branded as RiseUnited's alter ego, we see ugly signs that lacerations from the clash between Dr Phillips and Bunting are still very raw.

This headline tells us that the PNP needs a lot of therapy: 'PNP disciplinary committee to investigate NEC fracas' ( The Gleaner, October 13, 2013). The news item said, among other things: “The People's National Party (PNP) has asked its disciplinary committee to investigate the fracas that unfolded during last month's meeting of its National Executive Council (NEC).

“PNP Chairman Fitz Jackson acknowledged reports that 'some very unfortunate remarks and gesticulations' were made during the incident at the Jamaica Conference Centre, but said it is up to the disciplinary committee to determine culpability.

“According to reports, the dispute involved Papine Division Councillor Venesha Phillips and a delegate from the National Workers' Union.”

The dust had barely settled from the bust-up at the September 2020 NEC when another explosive episode from Councillor Phillips hit the national airwaves. Phillips recently said on a radio programme that Mark Golding was “damaged”. She submitted that: “Mr Golding's association with RiseUnited movement, an initiative she claims led to the demise of People's National Party (PNP) at the last polls, has disqualified him.” ( Nationwide News Network, October 12, 2020)

Phillips, in the mentioned radio broadcast, also described Golding as one of the “conceptualisers” of the ill-fated RiseUnited faction which was narrowly defeated by Dr Peter Phillips's OnePNP clique.

The mudslinging from the contentious 2019 leadership battle haunts 89 Old Hope Road. Consider this: 'Golding: Don't dwell on Lisa's JLP past — Presidential candidate describes opponent as important part of PNP family' ( Jamaica Observer, October 4, 2020).

Seven Sundays ago the birds, those reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, Bananaquits, and John Chewits, warbled inter alia: “Already, approaches are being made and alliances are being formed. They tweet that daggers have also been sharpened and bayonets are being cleaned for what will be a quick but bloody battle to take over the reins of the top job in the older of our two major political parties.” ( Jamaica Observer, September 6, 2020) They are right on the button.

Some will be tempted to shout, “The PNP mash up!” They should temper their enthusiasm. I believe the PNP will quickly begin to regain its political mojo soon after it chooses its next leader. Political parties exist to gain State power. No matter how much they indulge in counter-intuitive self-immolation, sooner or later individual pursuits are dispensed with in order to save the organisation from being thrown on the scrap heap of irrelevance. The PNP is no different.

It is not an accident that former treasurer of the PNP, Norman Horne, has decided to forego his appointment to the Senate. Among other things, he says his actions are guided by principles. I believe him. But I also believe Horne's actions are also directed by political expediency. Dr Phillips says he will allow the incoming president to choose the eighth Opposition senator. I think these political actions in effect reopen the door for the return of Peter Bunting. There are few accidents in politics.

20 bullets!

A man sees that a child is nearly hit down by a motorist who is driving carelessly. He protests. He is immediately executed. His executioners fire 20 bullets at the scene.

No, this is not a snippet from a crime movie. It happened right here in Jamaica earlier this month. Dwight McDonald, otherwise called Oney, a 39-year-old shopkeeper of Landlese, Papine, in St Andrew, was the victim.

Just in case some of you had forgotten how ugly the crime monster has become in Jamaica, I hope McDonald's killing jolts you back to reality. There are some spectacularly vicious super predators among us. They have made up their minds that, as we say in local parlance, “anyting ah anyting”; meaning they don't care if they live or die.

What is our response as a country? We need to make up our minds like last week. The clock is ticking. Crime is a clear and present danger to the survival of the Jamaican State.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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