The drama which has unfurled in Parliament around the spread of covid contamination, leading to the suspension of the 2022 Budget debate is a poignant example of the pervasive effect of the pandemic. We have been tallying numbers and reacting based on the numbers but here is a demonstration on a national scale of how far-reaching covid’s tentacles can be.
With the government now forced to suspend the sitting of the House and the resumption of its work uncertain in timing as it depends on the availability of numbers following covid tests, we may well come to understand what it means when we hear of government shutdown in the USA for instance. Government business, and the welfare of tens of thousands depend on the passage of the annual Budget.
The longer the time taken for the resumption of the Budget debate and its subsequent passage, the longer the delay in the processing and delivery of services by the state. This will have negative effects throughout the society especially on the poor and vulnerable and especially of those disaster-affected persons who rely on state support.
If anything, we must learn from this latest manifestation of how such a turn of events can affect an entire society, even when most are not directly involved. Above all, we must place the health and safety of the nation’s children first. While the public attention is on Parliament, every day now schoolchildren are being sent home because of the discovery of infections among them and there is the real threat that the resumption of face-to-face instruction may once more have to be halted. It is going into three years now that our children’s education is being disrupted. The impact will be far-reaching and long-lasting. Our children are the biggest sufferers from the covid pandemic.
But back to Parliament and the Budget. At press time, though the Prime Minister, himself awaiting the results of covid testing, has proposed a resumption of the Debate for today, Friday 14th, it is still unclear how or in what form the resumption will take place. Indeed, it is an embarrassment to the Government for the Prime Minister had earlier emphatically rejected an Opposition proposal for the shelving of the debate for one week because of the outbreak among Parliamentarians.
There will be the temptation among opposition MPs to practically gloat over the inconvenience and embarrassment to the Government given its scathing condemnation of Opposition Parliamentarians. Tempting as it might be, and whether deserved or not, the reality is that it is not in the nation’s interests to be engaged in party politicking at a time like this. From the very beginning of the week, it was clear that there is a sad lack of consultation and co-operation between both sides of the House on matters which are national in nature.
It is true that there is a history of distrust between them, and that the rivalry is so intense between both camps that among respective groups of supporters, co-operation can almost seem to be treachery, but we can only come out of this stronger if our political leaders are prepared to put the nation first and willing to co-operate and even compromise in the interest of our people.
It might make juicy talk to speculate on who has covid, how they got it and so on, but the business of the nation must go on.
Hopefully, the government side will learn from its previous sanctimoniousness on covid, and the Opposition will get a fuller appreciation of the threat to the nation. This is serious business and must be treated seriously by all involved. One is never completely safe from the effects of covid, and we must work collectively to overcome the threat. Schoolboy-like reactions may invoke temporary popularity but will not advance our interests any further.
On the part of the Government, the proverbial “high horses” position will not do. Vincentians want to know how a government, which has been vigorously exhorting its people to take precautionary measures, has been so badly infected all at once. Was there any instance of irresponsibility or the dropping of the guard involved ,leading to any lapse? People listen to news and are aware that in the UK for instance, Prime Minister Johnson is under political pressure for having a staff party while the country was under lockdown. The situation might not be similar here, but it will certainly do no harm to “come clean”.
If we handle the matter with maturity, beginning with our parliamentarians, our country will emerge much the stronger. Cross-party consultation and co-operation will go some way towards eroding the deep mistrust. Political rivalry will continue of course, but there must always be recognition that the interests of the nation and its people must always be given priority.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.