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JAMAICA | Opening the economy, June too soon!

  • Written by O. Dave Allen
  • Published in Opinion
Image odf the Sandals White House property along Jamaica's south coast. Image odf the Sandals White House property along Jamaica's south coast.
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica May 17, 2020 - I was pleasantly surprised at first when I saw the recent Sandals advertisement on MSNBC, announcing the opening of its flagship Jamaican product, and was moved with a sense of awkward pride. Pride in a brand that is the embodiment of unparalleled excellence and refinement, unmatched by any first world tourism product.
The author, Mr. O. Dave Allen, is a freelance writer and community development advocate as well as a political commentator.

On the other hand, some amount of uneasiness that we can flaunt such perverse opulence, beauty and abundance in the midst of hunger, devastation and uncertainty.

Even before the Prime Minster was able to announce that he will be opening up our ports and I suspect lifting the curfew, it was announced on the Sandals website that “All our resorts will be opened from early June.”

This was preceded by the announcement that the Chairman of Sandals Resorts International, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, through the Sandals Foundation, had donated $500,000, the equivalent  of US$3,450 @US1.45, to the dollar,  to each of the 63 Members of Parliament in the House of Representatives.

It is cold, callous, insensitive and disrespectful for the Sandals group to announce in advance of the Prime Minister that they are re-opening their resorts. So, having muzzled the Members of Parliament (MP) with his gifts, who cares about what the epidemiologists, medical practitioners and the scientists have to say about the virus.? At all costs, Butch must have his way.

This gift of US$3,450 per MP is a barefaced act of corruption in broad day light and a vulgar attempt to “curry favour” with elected officials and to influence public policy in favour of the powerful. This bribe should be rejected. The Opposition should be the first to return this Greek “gift”.

There is a view expressed by one of St. James’ leading business mogul “that we have to let our own immune system do its job, protect the elderly and vulnerable and let the families take responsibility for them and let the rest of us get back to normal lives.”

This a position shared by some members of the ruling class that see the workers, low-wage earners, the poor and the marginalized as expendable, like the Alorica BPO workers in Portmore.

This is the form of Economic Darwinism, the survival of the fittest, which is supported by Trump and the Republican Party in the USA. It is the belief that it is harmful to society to help those who are physically, intellectually, or economically disadvantaged. The belief that those members of society should be allowed to die off in order to strengthen the gene pool.

According to noted economist Milton Freidman, “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” Those of us with contrary views are often considered “subversive.” Fortunately for us, it is our belief that government has a duty of care and a responsibility to protect the life and wellbeing of all its citizens. People over profit.

The best marketing strategy to open up the economy is to have a virus free Jamaica. To achieve this objective, we need to start firstly by mitigation and containment through observing the various protocols, testing, contact tracing, isolating and care for the sick. We need to restore confidence in the health sector as well as demonstrate the capacity to respond to any surge.

Care must be taken that we do not follow Donald Trump over the precipice in an uncertain rush to prematurely open up the economy. Neither must we allow an overzealous private sector to force the hands of government to come down on the side of profit over the life and wellbeing of the Jamaican people.

The government must at all times put people first. We are not ready to open up our borders. We should be cautious about opening up our ports of entry until we know we won’t be importing the virus and there’s some treatment or vaccine. We should not want to open our borders and have a second wave of infections that overloads our fragile healthcare system.

Neither should we run the risk of exposing our people to visitors from countries that lack the capacity, the willingness and urgency to address the overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases within their own borders.  

It is overzealousness and if I may dear say, the avariciousness of capital that put at peril the health and wellbeing of the over 800 Business Process Outsourcing workers for not conforming to the protocol of the industry.

Government has a duty of care and a responsibility to protect the life and wellbeing of all its citizens, placing People over profits.

These men and women in the private sector along with coconspirators in the Ministry of Health that would sacrifice the lives and wellbeing of vulnerable and marginalized to satisfy the creed of the powerful and the politically connected. By so doing they compromised a critical pillar on which economic growth is predicated, put the Prime Minister’s reputation on managing the virus to shame and his overhyped public relations effort into disrepute.

All effort must be made now to save and protect this nascent BPO industry while at the same time protect the lives and wellbeing of the workers. Pre Covid-19 there were over forty-two thousand workers in the BPO sector, currently 22,000 are still employed under scrupulous conditions, while 10,000 are working from home to facilitate social distancing and 10,000 separated from their jobs.

The economy is in a perilous state. Last quarter the economy grew by less than .06 %. We have never been here before not even during the turbulent 1970s when the government of the day was faced the OPEC oil crisis, Manley at least had bauxite to fall back on. This government has very little wiggle room, while tourism, the life blood of the economy, faces a very uncertain future.

Despite the encircling gloom, we should not be guided by desperation but through sound judgement, rational thinking and bold and imaginative leadership.   For now, the tourism product must be sanitized, mothballed and placed on readiness for when it is auspicious for us to seize the moment, but June, too soon.

There are too many unsettling matters on the ground in respect to process and procedure. We nuh ready yet. We must not put the lives of the Jamaican people at risk by prematurely opening fragile sections of economy that lend themselves to health risks.  

Please excuse my cynical asperity, but I believe that the true number of positive COVID-19 cases are being suppressed to satisfy an agenda.

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Last modified onWednesday, 01 July 2020 09:00
  • Countries: Jamaica