While the grass is growing, the horse is starving

Dear Editor,

  We are about over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of this disease on our island nation has been nothing short of disastrous. The impact has meant 2,134 confirmed infected cases with 27 deaths. Thousands have been pushed into poverty. Equivalently, thousands of jobs have been lost. This can be clearly reflected in the claim of the Minister of Finance, indication of the severe increase in income assistance requests, the drastic increase in the requests for social welfare, and the tens of thousands receiving food aid by the various food aid agencies such as the Red Cross and K1 Britannia and civic and church organizations providing food for persons. The absence of these food programs and social assistance would have led to many being placed into acute hunger.

  Besides the immediate impact smack in our faces from this disease, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid before us all long-lasting scars for us to bear for many years to come. Closed and/or partially-opened schools has halted children’s physical mobility and socialization. The collapse of many small businesses and lost jobs has led to the depletion of savings and assets, which thereby enhanced debt accumulation that has stunted investment and necessary social spending in the economy.

  The social and economic burn from COVID-19 has descended down and spread through the working class and poor of this community like wildfire. The pain of this pandemic is layered on some infectious social and economic burdens that had already been eating away at the quality of life and the standard of living in St. Maarten.

  An overcrowded school system with no clear direction that is not adequately preparing our children for the local or regional marketplace which has led to overburdened and overworked schoolteachers, a failed justice and labor system that promotes and rewards employer abuse of the local job market and abuse of employees, the impact of climate change which has led to devastating hurricanes on our island and region alike, heightened increase in stress levels and violence throughout the community and a bloated government apparatus which failed to lend any vision for the direction of the country, have all created an economic stagflation pinching and punishing each and every individual at different times and intensities. But the pain and suffering has remained nonetheless.

  Because of this individualistic government structure, the natural order of the day has been a reactionary look at each crisis individually and placing it in the lap of the respective Minister and ministry to find unilateral solutions to the challenges of the day. Oftentimes they miss the direct consequences of their decisions and solutions or lack thereof. This failed model has missed the opportunity to identify interconnections of the challenges and the necessary solutions. Failures in justice affect the school system, failures in the economy affect the social welfare system, and failures in infrastructure affect the health system, and so on and so forth.

  The government’s decisions and choices today on the heightened challenges of povery, health care, inequality, and climate impact will determine our future for years to come. We need a better direction going forward to deal with the interconnected challenges born of the COVID-19 pandemic. A paradigm shift in the management structure in the way this government addresses challenges is necessary. It is high time they move swiftly and honestly with collective integrated responses to these challenges.

  The State Secretary has presented a piecemeal country package that once again is an attempt at myopic individualistic solutions to the many challenges. We have seen that the Hon. Prime Minister has agreed to these solutions in her response. However, the overall vision from this government on integrated solutions is still lacking.

  The resounding question throughout the community is “Where are we going?” The government’s silence in its failure to answer this question is deafening.

  The failure of a clear unambiguous vision combined with the limbo the Prime Minister and Parliament have placed this country in with their Choharis catastrophe only exacerbates the crisis the people of this country are facing. While the grass is growing the horse is starving. While the people are waiting on the proper leadership of this government on the proverbial field for the grass to grow, the people are starving.

Khalil K. Revan