Dominica needs a bipartisan approach in the battle against COVID-19
It is probably extremely naïve of us to expect Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit to invite the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) and the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) and other opposition groups to discuss and plan the country's approach to the fight the COVID-19 pandemic and particularly our response to COVID's impact on the Dominican economy.
We are naïve because that's not how Skerrit is wired and that's not how the-winner-takes-all political system works in Dominica. But to survive this plague, to quote the late Dominica Labour Party (DLP) parliamentarian Osbourne Riviere, we need a paradigm shift in the way we govern our little rock in the Caribbean Sea because all we have, calypsonian Chalkdust said correctly "is seawater and sand".
In addition, we believe that some issues, like COVID-19, are too important for a country to take a partisan approach to its control and management; the construction of an international airport is another such issue.
Why, for example, can't Fidel Grant, of the DLP, and Ezekiel Bazil, of the UWP, hold joint meetings with villagers of Wesley to discuss the construction of the international airport. Is that a bridge too far? It is not.
As we see it, the Skerrit administration has been repeatedly boasting that Dominica is doing extremely well, better than all the rest, in its efforts at containing the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. In fact, we have so politicized the management of COVID-19 that a DLP supporter had the affront to remark recently, in a queue where social distancing was being ignored, that Skerrit should go to St. Lucia as a consultant to help that island combat the spread of COVID-19.
In such a climate of silly partisan politics, a large part of Dominica is excluded from the process; or will deliberately and foolishly omit themselves from the battle against COVID-19 as if COVID-19 cares whether people are politically red or blue or neutral.
But we contend that when the administration boasts that Dominica is doing exceptionally well in the fight against COVID-19 we are missing the point - we could be doing much better if we take a bipartisan approach to the fight against this deadly virus. For instance, over the past few weeks, the government's press machinery has shown the President, prime minister, cabinet and top civil servants taking the jab; but where are the photographs of the Leader of Opposition, Lennox Linton, and the other leaders of opposition parties?
We suggest that a bipartisan approach would make it easier for all Dominicans, supporters and non-supporters of the Skerrit administration alike, to adhere to the Ministry of Health protocols. It would then become a real national effort, not mere pawol an bouch.
Additionally, a bipartisan approach to solving the social problems caused by COVID-19 will become necessary as we intensify efforts at reviving an economy that has reached rock bottom because of COVID-19-it cannot fall farther.
The idea of taking a multi-party approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects is not new. In April 2020, as the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic became evident, the Communist Party of China and more than 230 political parties from over 100 countries issued a joint open letter calling for carrying out closer international cooperation to beat COVID-19.
"We call on all countries to put the lives, safety and health of the people above everything else and take resolute and forceful measures to put an end to the spread of COVID-19", the letter said.
The point is, government cannot do it alone in the battle against COVID-19-we need the cooperation of every citizen; party politics must take a back seat for a while.
Meanwhile, in spite of the boast that Dominica is doing exceptionally well in the fight against COVID-19, as the figures seem to imply- there are worrying signs that Dominicans have become lackadaisical about COVID-19 even as the virus mutates into new and more virulent strains.
For instance, many Dominicans seem to take lightly Ministry of Health protocols such as social distancing the correct wearing of masks, quarantine, curfews, gathering limits and other restrictions on entertainment and events.
So while Dominica appears to be doing rather well in terms of the number of cases of COVID-19, and zero deaths, arguably that is a reflection of a number of factors that's beyond the island's control.
These factors, we suggest, include a very low total population that was probably cut in half following the exodus after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Government is apparently unaware of the number of its citizens who left and did not return after the devastation of category five Hurricane Maria; if government knows these statistics it has been very successful at keeping that a national secret. But the post-Maria exodus has greatly affected Dominica's population density which was already comparatively low. COVID-19 is more likely to spread in densely populated areas. Additionally, the number of tourists who visit Dominica's shores, and potentially bring along COVID-19, is minuscule compared to tourist havens like St. Lucia and Barbados.
At the moment it appears that Dominica's population has let its guard down as far as practicing the main protocols are concerned and we believe that this we-are-doing-exceptionally-well brag has contributed to that attitude.
We estimate that only about of 10-15% of Dominicans wear masks and much fewer social distance. A resident of Mahaut told THE SUN that about 90% of the people of Mahaut do not wear masks. Another source in Vielle Case estimates that less than 30% of the people who live in that village wear masks and fewer still wear the coverings correctly.
Most Dominicans wear their masks below their mouths and noses, under their chins; many wear masks on top of their heads ignoring the fact that masks worn under chins, noses and mouths are ineffective.
So, we contend, to increase the rate of adoption of the practice of wearing masks from 10% to 70 % a bipartisan approach is essential; and to achieve other national goals as well.
Even large industrial countries, like the United States of America with seemingly unlimited resources, have come to acknowledge that a single party working alone in a democracy cannot lead its people to prosperity. That realisation, for example, has led newly elected President, Joseph Biden, to make bipartisanship the centre of his presidential campaign and his administration during the post-Trump presidency.
"We must stop treating our opponents as our enemy. We are not enemies," President–elect Biden said during his victory speech in November 2020.
Generally, Dominicans must also acknowledge that economic and social development of the country has struggled greatly and continues to suffer immensely because of heightened levels of tribal politics. Even between election campaigns, it seems, our political leaders are locked in the vice grip of inflexible positions; they constantly rejoice in the vilification of their opponents.
But there are other ways to lead a nation. The Lugar Center suggests: "Embracing bipartisanship does not require leaders to alter their political principles or support policy proposals that they fundamentally oppose. But it does require them to ensure that their responsibility to govern is not paralyzed by their ideology or undercut by their pursuit of partisan political advantage".
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its economic devastation, now is an opportune time for our politicians to give peace, and bipartisanship, a chance.