Politics and the pandemic: reprioritizing the political agenda

Dear Editor,

As the world continues to be inundated with the new coronavirus pandemic, and as our country begins to grapple with the reality that life as usual can be no more, it is important that we pause to carefully reconsider our country’s policy prioritization.

This pandemic has shown us that the way we lived before was not sustainable and the sectors of society that we have pumped billions of dollars into serve no purpose if the capacities of public health systems are not strengthened.

Although those ways of doing may have proved beneficial for a moment, we know that all good things must come to end and to assume that our country and world will be the same post-COVID-19 hangs faithful to blind ignorance.

We will not return to normal and, in fact, we should not want to return to “normal”.

Normal never worked – it stripped us of our labor for pennies called minimum wage, it demonized our radical innovation, it produced drastic inequality, made poor people poorer then criminalized their poverty.

What we need in place of the “normal” is a reorganization of our politics – the things we consider important – and we must do it in a radically different way.

First, we need to think about our economics.

It goes without saying that our country is overly dependent on the tourism product.

When I teach industries to junior students, they know and understand – without formal introduction – that we depend on tourism for all other sectors in our society.

This overdependence on travel is not unique to our country.

It is significant to our region and, like our neighbors to the south, more than half of our GDP comes from the tourism product.

Therefore, when the planes stop flying and cruise ships stop docking, our economy takes a hit.

These facts, then, call for a real critique of our current political economy as tourism has proved that it is an unsustainable source of revenue. It is important that we begin to explore new revenue models and new ways for earning foreign currency, and this goes far beyond simply “diversifying the tourism product”.

Second, we must address the needs of those who are vulnerable among us by creating public health policy which ensures that healthcare is available to all.

The Bahamas has high rates of noncommunicable diseases, which makes our people severely susceptible to viruses and other diseases.

I, however, fail to believe that generations of Bahamians have chronic cases of hypertension, diabetes and obesity solely because they fail to take care of themselves.

To the contrary, our country’s failure to produce free and effective healthcare keeps those who cannot usually afford care at the margins of a healthy life.

Make no mistake, the ineffectiveness of our healthcare system has less to do with the skill of our doctors, nurses, orderlies and other hospital staff and it has much more to do with the lack of funding and resources that are made available for our public health system.

Now, more than ever before, we need strong public health policy that creates the kinds of public health outcomes that we desire and now is the time for our country to reinforce its commitment to an essential service such as this.

Third, our focus must be on food security.

Ensuring that there is an adequate availability of healthy and affordable foods in all areas of The Bahamas is paramount.

However, the answer to food security rests in food sovereignty – the ability of Bahamians to produce and distribute their own healthy foods.

Therefore, the organizing principle for the current National Food Committee should be that of food sovereignty in The Bahamas.

As a more sustainable method, food sovereignty gives the committee the capacity to eliminate food deserts while ensuring that all residents are provided with healthy and affordable foods.

As the global food systems continue to be impacted by COVID-19, it is time that The Bahamas leverages our climate for food production.

The ability to produce and control distribution of food allows us to trade and earn foreign currency, limit our reliance on the global supply chain and, if done effectively, it makes us less dependent on tourism.

Fourth and finally, the decentralization of power is needed now more than ever.

As with our Westminster system of government, power is heavily consolidated into the hands of the central government, who most times live and work in Nassau.

As a result of this, the policies that are made in Nassau are shaped specifically for the political environment of Nassau but are oftentimes applied to all islands.

This one-size-fits-all approach to governance of our islands is not only reactionary but ineffective.

Effective governance is at the local level – closest to the people – where those who are invested in the island and have perspectives on matters that impact the community can better mobilize and strengthen local economies and organize the voices of the more marginalized and vulnerable in those communities.

One thing is clear: COVID-19 has exposed deep fissures in our democracy and it has brought to the fore the need for a radical reorganization of our society.

The post-World War II experience has shown that current crises can be mobilized for a country’s future success and The Bahamas – amidst this pandemic – should be no different.

We must acknowledge that the old way of living was not sustainable as the future of our country depends on our ability to mobilize new economies and effectively provide food, healthcare and other essential services to all Bahamians.

Shelby A. E. McPhee

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