Though there are things that governments not only have the responsibility to do for the public good – the corollary is that it’s only governments that have the machinery, personnel, logistics and administrative muscle to do so.
This said, one has to concede that governments do not have all the answers to the myriad issues that arise in the course of time. They perforce have to listen to and have recourse to the specialised knowledge that is needed to address the problems that arise – especially during crisis times. This comes from technicians, scientists, academics in different fields, administrators in both the public service and in local administrative bodies – municipal, district and village council level –, as well as those in the private sector. There is also the ‘‘indigenous knowledge’’ that resides at the grassroots level, and that has proven in many countries to save public policy implementation from disaster. Additionally, in our globalised interdependent world, there is also the experience gathered by foreign countries in normal times, as well during crises.
We are presently in or fast heading towards the eye of the storm with the outbreak and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic all over the world. Can we imagine what the situation will be like in Mauritius if we were to go through the Phase 3 or thereafter Phase 4 of the pandemic? Questions have been raised here and outside Mauritius about whether the WHO has shouldered its responsibility as it is mandated to do so in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, in the early stages in particular. This will no doubt become the subject of heated debate once the pandemic begins to ebb – and heads will surely roll: in fact a US politician is already asking for the resignation of the director-general, Dr Tedros. But notwithstanding the WHO’s debatable response to the pandemic, there are countries like Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, and most recently India that have shown the way to the world and demonstrated leadership during the worst moments of the crisis. They have done the right things right, in the sequence required or simultaneously to make sure that the pandemic is effectively contained.
Rather late in the day, Mauritius has taken to address the pandemic issue which now appears to be on the way to be developing into a crisis situation. Thus the ongoing controversies being debated on social media about the belated decisions to close our skies, allow cruise ships and passengers into the country, etc. The level of preparedness towards an epidemic that broke out two months earlier thousands of kilometres away has left a laisse-à-desirer bitter feeling amongst many concerned citizens. Now it seems that we are doing the right things wrong, with the mess around the opening of supermarkets.
There are two fundamental aspects to this crisis, first the medical aspects and second the fact that people have to live. The latter means having food. Automatically this raises the question of the rational organisation of its availability and the access to it by all citizens. Any gap on this front carries the risk of aggravating the medical aspect.
This is where government should rope in all the resources present in the country, starting with its own at central level, and those at local and regional levels that would include representatives of producers of vegetable and non-vegetable items, NGOs, big and small distributors and vendors, etc. Such a grouping can be rapidly called, and put their heads together and come up promptly with a pragmatic and actionable plan.
For this to happen, there must be enough humility on the part of official decision makers to acknowledge that they do not have all the solutions, and are open to ideas and suggestions wherever they come from. There must be shared understanding of the issues involved and the solutions proposed, so that as one voice a common message can be sent to the public. Good communication is most crucial to make the latter understand clearly the seriousness of what we are going through and invite their cooperation – for their own good.
And in parallel, the public must play its part and strictly abide by all the advice that is being dispensed, and the health interventions and general measures that are being implemented to ensure their food and health security and that of their families. And also reassure them frequently that the situation is under constant review and adjustments will be made as and when required.
And last but not the least, leave space open 24/7 to receive constructive comments and suggestions.
* Published in print edition on 3 April 2020