Dr. Godwin Friday, President of the New Democratic Party and Leader of the Opposition, is providing decisive and inspiring leadership during this COVID-19 crisis in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. He has articulated a clear vision and is consistent with the measures that he has put forward to be implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In his letter to Prime Minister, Dr. Gonsalves, on 21st March; Dr. Friday outlined a number of measures that the government should have adopted. These include:
- Stricter social distancing controls and guidelines must be advocated publicly and enforced as best we can. All public gatherings should be discouraged and reduced to only what are necessary to maintain essential public services and promote public health.
- Ensure that water is available to all people throughout SVG so that they can comply with the recommended personal hygiene practices
- Urgently enable testing for the corona virus in SVG and begin widespread testing. Priority should be given to those who come into contact with persons who have tested positive for the corona virus or are suspected of being infected with it. Waiting for symptoms to show before testing is a risky approach that may create more harm.
- Explain to the nation what to expect in a worst-case scenario of the spread of the corona virus in SVG and how government services (especially health services), businesses, transport services and individuals are expected to respond. The participation of seasoned medical, public health and other personnel with related expertise drawn from both civil society and the government service should be enlisted in this effort.
Further, Dr. Friday addressed the nation on the 1st April, while he advocated that the borders be closed for a short period; he made it clear that our nationals should be allowed to return home. He said, “Clearly, we are not out of the woods yet– not by a long shot. This means we must do all we can to protect our people. This requires closing our borders for a while by suspending all arrivals at our airports and seaports, except essential travellers (including nationals) and commerce. We would then review the decision as conditions change. Taking this action now will give us the best chance of avoiding more cases of COVID-19 in SVG and of reducing the risk of an outbreak that may overburden our fragile healthcare system.”
It would appear that the government does not have a conclusive and effective plan to manage COVID-19. It has adopted a cavalier approach, and continues to send mixed messages to Vincentians. When we look at the measures the other Caricom countries have implemented; we continue to ask, what is wrong in St. Vincent and the Grenadines? This approach is dangerous and can lure Vincentians into a false sense of security.
The islands of the Grenadines are faced with special developmental and nation-building challenges. Despite these challenges, the Grenadines, as a vital part of our country, play an important role in our economic development, particularly in the tourism industry. We must ensure that government services, social and health care services, and employment and educational opportunities are equally available to people living in the Grenadines. We must develop rapidly the economic potential of the Grenadines to promote economic growth and employment opportunities for all.
The people of the Grenadines have long suffered with the issue of quality, reliable and safe water supply. During the years, the people of these islands have been forced to use pond, well, sand hole and other means of supply to do basic chores. We are in the heart of the dry season and the Grenadine islands are experiencing severe drought. There is severe water shortage on the islands, and at this time when St. Vincent and the Grenadines is faced with the challenge of COVID -19, we have to use more water, it makes the situation more dire. The government promised the people of the Grenadines that they would have delivered portable water to them but they have failed to do so.
In February of 2009, the Honourable Terrance Ollivierre, Parliamentary Representative for the Southern Grenadines, asked of the former Minister of Health and the Environment, Dr. Douglas Slater, the following questions in parliament. What is the result of the study conducted by the Central Water and Sewerage Authority (CWSA) to assess the water situation in the Grenadines? And, what is the result of the study conducted by the CWSA to assess the water situation in the Grenadines?
The Minister replied, “Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, quite an ambitious expectation to supply adequate amount of water at all time to the citizens of the Grenadines, but it is one that we aspire to do. The National Water Resource Management consultants who have been commissioned to do a study of the Grenadines water supply, have reported that work on the design of water distribution system layouts for Bequia, Union Island and Canouan is now completed. These designs have now been passed on to their economists for inclusion in the draft version of the feasibility studies which will form part of the draft final report, which owing to an extension of the project will now be issued late 2009. Once the feasibility and the affordability are established and accepted; the CWSA and the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will move swiftly to ensure an adequate water supply for residents of the Grenadines.” The people of the Grenadines are still waiting.
The New Democratic Party is aware of the plight of the people of the Grenadines and will do everything possible to improve the lives and ease the pain of the people of the Grenadines. To achieve this, we will develop and promote water security. The CWSA will be engaged to play a leading role in supplying a safe and reliable supply of water to the people in the Grenadines. The NDP will make SVG work for all Vincentians.