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Health and coming elections

Rickey Singh Rickey Singh
AS we bid farewell to 2014, the thousands of victims in this and other Caribbean nations afflicted by the horrible chikungunya virus would most likely be prayerfully hoping to be spared another such unwelcome visit.

However, whether readers of this column prayed or danced into the dawn of New Year 2015, my unauthorised and unsolicited advice is to pay keen attention to the advisories from national, regional and international health authorities to be on guard against Ebola the killer disease that surfaced in and wreaked havoc among several West African countries. 

Amid mounting deaths, including those of doctors and nurses  who were mobilised or volunteered to help combat this killer disease, the Caribbean’s public and private health sectors have been alerted to be vigilant and pay heed to advisories from the World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation. 

And tourism-based economies such as Barbados, Jamaica, The Bahamas and St Lucia have already come to appreciate their added responsibilities in dealing with visitors without causing panic.

As if having to devote more time and resources to be ready for the ChikV and Ebola viruses is not enough, a number of Caricom states are currently being compelled to devote considerable financial, technical and human resources to combat gun-related murders and robberies. 

Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Jamaica are among the most seriously affected despite the missionary zeal of their respective ministers of national security. Also quite distressing in 2014 were the seemingly endless reports of rape, many of these degrading acts involving children.   

Battling serious crime has proven to be increasingly costly for too many Caricom economies, with Trinidad and Tobago—directly—and others—indirectly—having to grapple with the additional problem of declining revenue from falling oil prices.

This development is a new challenge for both Trinidad and Tobago—Caricom’s sole primary energy-based economy—as well as all of the community’s member states that are beneficiaries of Venezuela’s subsidised Petrocaribe project, an inheritance from the late president Hugo  Chavez. 

Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, gave firm assurances in her Christmas Day message against any cuts in public sector wages or decline in subsidies for essential social services. But, not surprisingly, her traditional political opponents have been more focused in criticising portraits of the country’s first woman Prime Minister on highway billboards charmingly wishing everyone “Merry Christmas”.

If non-citizens of this Caricom state are inclined to wonder about the fuss, they should reflect on the fact that next year will bring—most likely within the second quarter of 2015—general elections.

Incidentally, Trinidad and Tobago’s elections will be one of possibly five general elections expected before Christmas 2015—the others being those for Guyana, Jamaica, St Vincent  and the Grenadines and St Kitts-Nevis.

While with democratically conducted elections it’s often not easy to predict outcomes, I will take the risk to forecast victories for the five incumbent parties.

In contrast to the coming national elections, Barbados seems set to have a much overdue cabinet reshuffle, moreso against the backdrop of recurring publicly stated differences with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart as articulated by his controversial agriculture minister Dr David Estwick, a former minister of economic affairs.    

Rickey Singh is a noted Barbados-based Caribbean journalist