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Commentary

The Leader can’t lead if he doesn’t love and want to serve all the people

After listening to the most recent national address of the Prime Minister, I reflected on the words of Cornel West, American Philosopher, ‘You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people, if you don’t serve the people’.

These words correctly encapsulate the situation of leadership in Grenada at the moment. The speech was uninspiring, lacking in candour and empathy.

In times of crisis a leader is forthright with his people, takes responsibility for the failures of his team and hold members to account. The speech failed to explain the true extent of the outbreak, identify systemic failures that led to current increasing levels of contagion, and to outline a comprehensive list of measures that would reverse community transmission of the virus.

Rather than level with the Grenadian people, the speech subtly attempted to shift blame away from the NNP House and the many parties held over the traditional August weekend to the outdoor Jab Jab defiance.

However, this would not work because of the litany of systemic failures that occurred after the initial lockdown last March. The people saw for themselves and in many cases experienced the unfair enforcement of public health protocols.

They became aware of the many house parties and other instances of breaches that were allowed to take place in Lance Aux Pines, True Blue and other rich, upper class areas, while shops and bars in poor neighbourhoods around the island were forced to shut their doors in accordance with the curfew.

They saw the goodly lady parliamentary representative, strut like a peacock in Parliament, as she announced Grenada is open for business after becoming under the influence of the ‘wow effect’ of a superficial presentation by one of the leading international hotels in the south of the island.

They saw the video of a restaurant on Grand Anse beach operating after curfew hours filled with white people and learnt of the many permissions granted to those described as ‘friendly to the party’ to hold entertainment events that ended up having way more patrons than stipulated in the regulations.

In response, the people used traditional and popular culture, a potent weapon given to them by their ancestors, to defy the authorities whom they felt favoured the Upper Class, foreign investors, and white people.

So don’t try to lay blame on the Jab Jab, be truthful and accept your government’s unfair and complaisant approach to enforcement of public health protocols as the reason for the emerging community spread of the virus.

The situation Grenada can now be likened to the space shuttle, Challenger disaster thirty-five years ago. Although the initial cause of the mid-air explosion was a design flaw in the O-rings, a seal that prevented pressurised gases from the solid rocket motor reaching the external fuel tanks, which ignited in flight.

The findings by a Commission set up to investigate the disaster found a plethora of issues including a flawed decision making process based on incomplete information, management not fully appreciative of safety issues, failure in communications, and conflict between engineering data and management judgement.

Most of the findings of the Commission were systemic failures facilitated by a management culture that overlooked safety concerns in favour of meeting schedules and program success.

Similarly in Grenada, the systemic failures identified earlier in the article are the result of a leadership and governance style that is driven by partisan politics and nepotism, which allows privileges to family, friends and high ranking party supporters over the health and wellbeing of the rest of the population.

Therefore, foreign investors could fly into the island on private jets go straight to high priced villas and be seen moving around the next day not adhering to public health protocols.

Lance Aux Pines whites could hold house parties and pool fetes without fear of being interrupted by the police, political supporters and family members can hold entertainment events at will while shops and bars in poor communities are harassed by the police.

The Jab Jab, shortnee, and Vecoux mas played by the people were a defiant response to the unjust policies of government. Embedded in the expressions of the resistance were art, language and metaphoric chants referring to widespread injustice and unfair treatment of the masses by those in authority.

Though the house parties and theme fetes are being linked to the current Covid-19 outbreak, a deeper look at the situation would expose the real underline causes as systemic failures, lack of effective communications, and decisive leadership.

The situation is further underpinned by a toxic governance environment that do not fully appreciate the magnitude of this pandemic where it is apparent that the range of recommendations from health professionals on efforts to curb the spread are not being considered by the final decision makers who are driven by political consequences over public health safety.

With confirmation of the highly infectious and deadly Delta variant in circulation, one would have expected a more effective response beyond an extension of the curfew in light of the weak health infrastructure, limited number of health care personnel, and impending reopening of schools.

After all, Delta is at the top of the hierarchy of infectious viruses comparable to Measles. Extension of the curfew assumes the virus only spread at nights in large gatherings.

The sad fact is the genie is now out of the bottle and Delta is spreading in several communities – an extension in the curfew would not be able to stop spread of such highly infectious virus.

Notwithstanding, the need to balance economic consideration and public health safety, a tightening up of several areas when it comes to public complacency and entry protocols, in addition to the curfew, would have been more prudent and effective.

Listening to the Minister of Health and his minion, the CMO, in the post-Cabinet press briefing, they sounded out of their wit’s end, confused, and irritated. Many of the responses to the questions asked by journalists can only be described as disingeneous and perplexing.

Recent evidence does suggest a need for reconsideration of the entry protocols. It is not about the length of time the protocol was in place, the question is why suddenly persons having entered the island fully vaccinated are turning up positive on the way out.

Is it these persons are getting infected a day or two before travel and on entry to the island, their viral loads are too low for the PCR test to detect since the virus incubation period is five to seven days?

According to announcements, these instances started to occur in July and August when the volume of persons entering the country significantly increased. There is no evidence of a virus spread in the months leading up to July. All it takes is for one person to slip through the cracks and start spreading the virus.

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The authorities turned a blind eye on mass gatherings at certain entertainment centres around the island in May and June – this lax disposition continued into July and August creating the perfect condition for a virus spread.

The existence of scams in New York and other metropolitan cities, involving fake vaccination cards came to light just before the increasing influx of visitors mostly Grenadians living abroad and students from St. George’s University.

Many of these returning Grenadians were ‘living the life’, partying and moving around the island attending these mass gathering, theme parties and house fetes. It is no coincidence that initial announcement of a virus outbreak linked infected persons to certain parties.

This is deja-vu all over again, ‘Sandals outbreak 101’, when the authorities tried to please certain groups for perceived quick financial gains by agreeing to complaisant protocols to facilitate revenue increase in a pandemic virus outbreaks usually occur.

The Minister and CMO suddenly have amnesia; they forget how many visitors to the island were detected positive for the virus in the months leading up to August. The virus did not originate in Grenada; it had to be transported here by a carrier.

The complaisant entry protocol friendly to the tourism industry is the ‘achilles heel’, the weak link that broke and caused the virus to enter the island. Having entered the island, government’s double standards and partisan approach to enforcement of public health regulations provided the perfect environment for it to spread.

So do not try to blame the Jab Jab – it is government’s unjust policies that caused them to use that which was handed down to them by their ancestors through art, language, metaphoric chanting, and rhythmic prancing in unison to express defiance.

Grenada was doing well when our entry protocols were more stringent than our neighbours, however we followed them became lax and reduced the number of days for quarantine to attract visitors to the island.

Jamaica has some of the more complaisant protocols to the tourism industry and the government allowed mass gatherings to facilitate election campaign which resulted in significant spread on top of the existing high infections rate; The Bahamas complaisant protocols to tourism; Trinidad and Tobago, a porous border allowing thousands of Venezuelans to enter the country, double standards where many rich Trinidadians were allowed back into the island from abroad and attended illegal house parties and went to resorts to Tobago to fete, not adhering to protocols.

The level of arrogance and contempt displayed during the press briefing was alarming. Both the Minister and CMO came across as if they resigned themselves to the worst and it will be the fault of the unvaccinated.

The CMO was in no mood to consider the journalists who asked valid questions on extending the days for quarantine in some cases appearing to usurp the authority of the Cabinet and the Minister by using language such as, “I will have to decide on that”.

The obviously inexperienced and insolent CMO forgot it was he who said the adult vaccination campaign will use the existing structure for innoculating children against childhood diseases such as mumps and measles – a program driven by a vaccine mandate for attending school.

Maybe that’s why he forgot to have his subordinate Public Relations Officer develop a comprehensive public education campaign to educate people on the vaccine and encourage them to get vaccinated.

He continues to contradict himself on the one hand, saying the vaccine is safe according to the science but dismissive of considering returning to seven days quarantine given the science indicates the incubation period for the virus is five to seven days.

Consideration of three persons in a row on passenger buses deserves to be looked at as well from a risk reduction perspective. The virus is primarily spread by droplets floating in the air from an infected person. A fully loaded passenger bus with four persons in a row, particularly with windows closed and air-condition on is a higher risk than three persons in a row fully masked with windows open causing greater airflow in and out of the bus and faster dispersion of any droplets from an errant passenger.

Can you imagine the risk young children would face on buses when school reopens? The CMO could not properly respond to the question on effectiveness of AstraZeneca vaccine against the Delta virus which he should have at the tip of his tongue to be able to educate people on the vaccine. What an embarrassment to those highly experienced and competent CMOs of the past.

The CMO appears adamant, inclined to push the vaccine down people’s throat, not giving consideration to their fears and right to decide what goes into their bodies.

Listening on a daily basis to many unvaccinated persons, it is safe to conclude that failure of the CMO and Ministry to develop a comprehensive public education campaign and effective structure for administering the vaccine resulted in high levels of vaccine hesitancy which doomed the program to failure.

The CMO and Minister should be upset with themselves for failing to carry out their duties and not with the Jab Jab or unvaccinated.

The leader has repeatedly failed to inspire and lead during this difficult time. Evidently, he is more concern with his own political preservation by placating party faithfuls and business interests friendly to the party over the wellbeing and safety of the masses.

He has shown over and over there is no love for the people – it’s all about politics. If hospitalisation of the infected child pains him so much why has he not mandate children between the ages of twelve to eighteen that they must get vaccinated to return to school.

After all, the Delta variant is equally contagious as mumps and measles, both of which require children to be vaccinated before they can go to school.

The Pfizer vaccine is now fully approved, there is no reason why a mandate can’t be instituted to protect children from Covid-19 in the same manner as Measles and Mumps.

The leader’s failure to level with the Grenadian people, take responsibility for failures in the campaign against Covid-19, and hold persons accountable is a dangerous dereliction of duty which clearly demonstrates he is either unwilling or unable to serve and protect the masses in this terrible crisis.

The words of Cornel West are very applicable to Grenada in this pandemic.

Special Correspondent