After the tumultuous year of 2020, what prospects are there for the peoples of this planet for 2021? Certainly if we look at this question primarily from economic and social angles, the answers will not be very encouraging, at least at this stage.
After the ravages of the COVID -19 pandemic, it is tempting to dub the new year as “The year of the Vaccines”, with mass immunisation programmes already being put in motion in several countries.
However, even in relation to this preventative measure there are still formidable challenges. Access to the vaccines has exposed the inequality in the world with those countries which can afford the vaccines gobbling up supplies leading to what the World Health Organisation (WHO) calls the emergence of “vaccine nationalism”. Poorer underdeveloped countries and their massive populations have to wait, hamstrung by the lack of financial resources and logistical capabilities.
The damage to the global economy has been truly enormous and economic recovery will be no easy task, whether countries are big or small, rich or poor. To complicate the situation, facing up to this challenge requires opening up economies and social interaction which run the risk of undermining the task of staying safe. Highly dependent tourism nations such as those in the Caribbean, St Vincent and the Grenadines included, will have to learn to walk that tightrope as we strive to rebuild our economies whilst protecting the health of our people.
Leadership is crucial in this endeavour but so too must be trust and tolerance. Government cannot do it alone; it needs the cooperation of its citizens and that of the parliamentary opposition. It will be a herculean task to rebuild our damaged economy whilst providing for the most vulnerable sections of the population. This is further complicated by the fact that as an open economy, we are also very dependent on what happens in the global economy.
We had a glimpse of the political challenges ahead on Monday of this week when Parliament met to discuss and approve a pre-Budget request to borrow EC$125 million for capital expenditure for 2021, justifying it on the grounds to keep the economy moving while awaiting the 2021 Budget which must be presented before the end of January.
When the new Parliament reopened earlier this month there was a glimmer of hope of a new spirit or respect and cooperation, so badly needed to underpin our developmental thrust. However, those hopes seem to be already dimming by the time of Parliament’s first business session. The Opposition refused to support the loan request on the grounds of a lack of transparency and no need to take such a step outside the impending budget process.
It is not known what level of consultation, if any, took place between Government and Opposition before the sitting of parliament, but it is clear that we are in for a prolongation of the conflict between both sides in the House of Assembly. With Budget 2021 on the horizon and even the very limited “consultation with social partners” expected to be further restricted given the timelines, we can expect both a difficult Budget and perhaps even more fireworks in the House.
Given all that has happened in 2020, with revenue streams drying up and government severely challenged both to generate spending to keep the economy afloat as well as to provide for those disadvantaged by COVID along with the normal vulnerable sectors, the 2021 Budget must be giving nightmares to those entrusted with the task of fashioning it.
Whatever the challenges, the Government must not lose sight of the fact that the Opposition, in spite of having only six of the 15 seats, obtained the support of the majority of persons who voted in the last election. It must make every effort to consult and seek cooperation while of course exercising its leadership responsibilities as the government of the country.
Our country needs a new approach to development, an approach which must be people-centred. We will always have political differences but if there is one thing that we all must hold very highly for 2021, and beyond, is that of tolerance. We have to learn to respect the views of each other, to engage in intelligent discussion and debate, and to keep the interests of our country foremost at all times.
As I extend New Year’s Greetings to our readers, I again emphasize TOLERANCE.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.