By Everistus Jn Marie
COVID-19 has presented Saint Lucia with a health and economic challenge that cannot continue to be addressed independently of each other.
Saint Lucia must avoid the common linear approach to problem-solving, otherwise, we will only end-up solving temporarily a health problem, while broadening an economic dilemma.
This current COVID-19 global crisis is unique in many ways. It’s a health problem so widespread and deadly that it takes people away from most areas of economic activity. The solution requires attention to social interaction that creates fear and panic among people. This is why it is more than a health issue, which requires government intervention on different levels, simultaneously.
The government of Saint Lucia needs to alter its approach to addressing COVID-19.
- We need to quickly improve our health system;
- Acquire the necessary testing equipment for the detection of the virus;
- Improve monitoring of our borders, especially as it relates to visitors from countries with high levels of infection rates; and
- Reinforce the vital need for social distancing.
Social distancing remains our most effective means of controlling the spread of COVID-19. Regrettably, we did not promote the value of this early enough, nor practiced it, at the highest level. So now, the government has had to force it upon us.
The government’s change in approach must include, in addition to a health focus, a simultaneous economic intervention that puts money directly in the hands of the thousands of workers who have been displaced.
While we are fighting on the health front, the Saint Lucian economy is in an inexorable decline, because consumer demand has diminished; and without early government intervention, many businesses will collapse very soon.
By the time COVID-19 is brought under control, there may be little left to build from, making an economic recovery very protracted and challenging.
I am not for a minute suggesting that every person unemployed should be given [some] government allowance. This may not be possible because the system required together with the level of fairness and transparency does not exist. The exigency of the situation does not allow the time to build it.
So who then should get it and for how long?
These are questions the leader of the opposition should be answering in a detailed stimulus programme, having earlier publicly mentioned; the need for government assistance to displaced workers.
Whatever sum paid should allow most people to meet their very basic needs, coupled with the relief banks are providing to customers such as a moratorium on mortgage payments and loans.
The funding for such payments can come from the Advanced Departure Tax (ADT) locked-box, ear-marked to fund the Redevelopment of Hewanorra International Airport, which would require a simple legislative amendment to effect a change of use.