Social media lights up every time Dr Michelle Trotman speaks about Covid-19, although she admits that she is not a ‘Facebook person’. The authenticity with which she delivers is endearing at a time when our officials just don’t understand how to engage the population. Dr Trotman spoke to us with no frills, no pretensions and in easily understood man-in-the-street language.
Monday’s news conference by the prime minister and his loquacious minister of health was going very well until the PM allowed himself to be distracted by his angst with the leader of the opposition. In responding to a legitimate media question, he dismissed her letter with the caustic remark: “I have serious business to do for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
He further commented that on the previous Friday, the opposition voted to prevent him from addressing parliament on the Covid-19 issue and asked the rhetorical question: “Is that the same one who is writing me now? To tell me what?”
Well, Mr Prime Minister, an overture by the leader of the opposition is serious business for the people of Trinidad and Tobago, including the hundreds of thousands who voted for the UNC.
The history of our response to Covid-19 is that it was first raised in parliament by opposition member Dr Tim Gopeesingh on 30 January. His attempt to raise it as a definite matter of urgent public importance was rebuffed by the Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George. The matter was subsequently raised in the Senate where it was also not allowed for discussion.
History will judge the decisions of the Speaker and the president of the Senate when the fallout from the coronavirus is finally recorded. Just maybe, if the matter was discussed since 30 January, Trinidad and Tobago would have been in a far better place.
The more important issue to my mind is the lost opportunity by the prime minister and the leader of the opposition to demonstrate to your employers — the taxpayers — that you can collaborate and work across party lines for the greater good. Both leaders in parliament need a good spanking (‘cut arse’ in TT vernacular) for allowing this issue to degenerate into a tit-for-tat public spat.
They are saying to us that they neither trust nor respect each other to be able to come together when the nation is in crisis. Our leaders should not be encouraging the population to view this and other issues through partisan filters. Issues should be addressed by their level of importance to the population.
Covid-19 will not discriminate, nor infect according to ethnicity, social status, geographic location or party affiliation. Given the demonstrated small-mindedness of our leaders, citizens need to find ways to support each other and find the leadership amongst each other to act in our best interest.
This pandemic calls for self-restraint, self-directed learning and the willingness to heed the global calls of social distancing, hand washing and sanitisation. We need to take leadership and look out for each other because it is clear to me that those people in parliament are only looking out for themselves.
May we take the lessons of surviving COVID-19 to make a difference to our country. Our politicians seem to lack the capacity to take us to that mythical place where the Tajo, the Loire, the Nile, the Thames, the Yangtze, the Euphrates and the Ganges all meet.