Trinidad and Tobago opposition leader calls for united approach to COVID-19 response, recovery plan

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Dear Sir

I am once again reiterating my call to the government to work with the opposition, civil society, NGOs and other non-aligned persons to mount a united effort and work on a comprehensive COVID-19 response and recovery plan.

This is a time for cooperation, as no single entity has a monopoly on ideas that can alleviate our current situation. We need all hands on deck as we navigate this new normal and come up with innovative ways to return to stability and growth.

We’ve seen, however, that persons who have ideas or suggestions that have differed from those being put forward by the government are being accused of politicking or silenced through fake outrage. Attempts to suppress divergent ideas and conversations will only hinder progress in fighting this pandemic. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we should at least give fair contemplation to the suggestions of others outside of our customary groups.

Tremendous damage to the efforts to combat this pandemic can be avoided by using a consultative method, as more open discussion can lead to improved ideas and approaches.

Currently, despite the efforts of the authorities, the COVID-19 response is in danger of becoming chaotic and uncoordinated. The majority of proposals put forward in press conferences over the last month have not materialized.

Each day a disjointed approach is being offered to the public which seems to be created on the hoof. Media questions are responded to with a lack of information combined with misinformation or are just not answered.

Repeated calls for increased testing are being met with delays and problems. After almost six weeks we still are only testing 20 to 25 persons per day while international norms are well into the hundreds.

In six weeks, 987 people have been tested, despite the ministry of health officials assuring the public since February 2020 that they were prepared for this eventuality. Two months after these assurances were given, we have still not built the capacity to undertake testing outside of CARPHA.

Retrenchment is increasing and many people are unable to access government assistance due to the inconsistencies of the application process. Businesses have no clarity on the government’s next steps which are being done without consultation, and these actions will have devastating effects in months to come. Some of these businesses are already beginning to feel these effects today.

These are critical issues that must be considered as we go forward. In the interim, as we fight this virus on a national level, I repeat my call for a united approach to developing a national response and recovery plan.

By using accusations of politicking to attack the well-meaning and helpful views of opposition members, media personnel, independent commentators and others in their daily press conferences the government is damaging themselves and the country.

Every right-thinking citizen in this country is aware of the threat to our country posed by this virus. They also know that now is not the time for division, or for attempts by the government to avoid accountability and suppress opposing views.

Now is the time for cooperation and transparency and putting all our citizens first.

More than two weeks ago, at a meeting with the prime minister, I offered a number of suggestions, many of which have since been taken on board. The opposition is ready to continue the collaborative effort to fight COVID-19 and work towards solutions for our nation’s future, and we propose the establishment of a National Task Force to include members of the opposition, civil society, business, labour, and academia.

I urge the prime minister to let good sense prevail and consider our proposal. It is only by working together that we can get this crisis under control and bring relief to our fellow citizens.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP 

Political Leader of the United National Congress (UNC), and Leader of the Opposition, Trinidad and Tobago.

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