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Where do we go from here?

Entornointeligente.com / Search form Search Main menu Home News Business Sports Columns Contact Us E-Paper Where do we go from here? Wed, 03/31/2021 – 6:00am Tomorrow is April 1, 2021.

This represents a full year since this country entered into serious lockdowns, as COVID-19 cases first announced in mid-March 2020, started to climb and this country was plunged into a lockdown, which included the mandated closure of businesses and the restriction of movement of Barbadians across the island.

Supermarkets were closed as people started to question how they would be able to function in a society which thrived on free movement, which now had to deal with having to stay at home and to find themselves being at home – 24 hours a day.

We adjusted and the initial lockdown lasted for weeks, until we had some relative return to normalcy on June 15, 2020.

Fast forward to April 1, 2021. At this time in 2020, everything was stopped, but this year, with more cases in isolation than this time last year, we are preparing to reopen schools on April 19, with the assertion that this country has no choice but to reopen. What has changed?

Back then, the need to protect the public from the unseen enemy was deemed mission critical. This country was closed down and people were left scrambling and still Government refused to admit its failings with regards to the latest uptick in numbers from January 2021, only putting the country on ‘pause’ rather than admit that lax quarantine rules contributed to this problem which was avoidable, in terms of the scale of the developing 2021 outbreak.

I remember the time in 2020 vividly. Like some Barbadians, my family planned month to month. Shopping is done when monthly salaries are paid and a combination of items are bought to put the household in good standing for the month. That process restarts in another month, with some trips to supermarkets for commodities as they are used up.

That changed in the first lockdown, since the abrupt nature of it meant that families were caught off-guard. Before I get angry e-mails about ‘always being prepared’, I know that the intent is always to prepare for the hurricane season and to stock up on essentials.

That occurs when you over time buy canned items and some essentials to store for the season, but in the first few uncertain days, and with schools closed and some non-essential businesses shuttered temporarily, people watched supplies dwindle and became scared as they had no way of refilling them.

Then came the surname system for supermarkets and banks. That was chaos at the start. For my part, being among ‘A-B’ – it was a nightmare. Supermarket lines were outrageous as it seemed that thousands of people fit those initials. I lucked out as being part of the essential services, I had other options, yet some were not so lucky and had to stand in long lines in the hot sun and sometimes in rain. Clearly we have learnt from this exercise.

Now that we have delved into vaccine distribution and as the number of fully vaccinated starts to increase from April with second doses and more vaccine shots arrive, the fear over the virus will become one of real hope as the prospect of surviving its deadly grip becomes realistic. We will still have variants and mutations of the virus, but with vaccinations, the ability to stave off serious illness and deaths will rise. That is what we need to achieve, the way to protect the most vulnerable.

The virus has had an impact on the island’s economy.

The impact on our major foreign exchange earners and the inter-connected domestic economy has been devastating. Tourism has flat-lined. International Business is also facing problems, which impact how we operate as an economy.

Our local sectors have traditionally faced problems over the years in terms of reaching the desired production rates and for years, this has presented a challenge to economic planners.

So the perfect storm of restricted performance in our key drivers of economic growth and anaemic performances in local sectors has left the economy in a serious hole.

We are in the midst of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, which has had implications for our economic priorities and spending. My simple question is: “Where do we go from here?”

Government, upon assuming office, sought to reform its spending priorities and cut Expenditures. We were promised cuts in Supplementary Spending from Parliament or Transfers and Subsidies to various agencies. In fact, we were told that departments must learn to live within their means.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), as the primary healthcare location, was identified as one which would be efficient in its delivery of services and would be able to live within its Budget.

The QEH matter has been complicated with issues related to the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) and long waits for years. The construction of a new area, which is adjacent, was announced to be a part of the solution, but we await this to be completed.

The University of the West Indies is another issue. The last Administration was pilloried over its decision to ask students to pay tuition costs while it paid the economic costs. The idea in 2013 was that the trajectory of spending increases related to paying full costs – tuition and economic costs – would eventually become prohibitive to Government. Some voters saw otherwise and voted in a new Government which restored full funding but the question remains, “Can we afford it going forward?”

The Estimates identified the energy sector as one way forward, but will costs be too prohibitive for the average man to buy into?

Issues related to the ability of Government to continue to provide services in the manner which people have become accustomed are now front and centre. Take the Transport Board which was constantly attacked by the now Government, then in Opposition. What will bus fares look like going forward?

What about health care? Can Government continue to provide it at current levels, especially with the added burden of COVID-19 expenses, namely isolation facilities, doctors and nurses, equipment, testing, PPEs? These are all legitimate questions to be asked.

What about water rates and the cost of sanitation services? Taxation levels, in the midst of a deepening recession, is a part of the conversation going forward.

I wish this was a traditional April Fool’s Day and it could all be a dream or a hoax, but this is really serious.

Where do we go from here?

LINK ORIGINAL: Barbados Advocate


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