The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) has called for a roundtable comprising Government and Opposition MPs, despite what it said was parliamentarians using last week’s debate to extend the State of Emergency to blame each other for the current upsurge in COVID-19 cases.
During a virtual media conference yesterday, MSJ political leader David Abdulah stressed that with more than 300 of the 479 COVID-19 deaths occurring in May, the political conduct is failing the people who have lost fathers, mothers and livelihoods during the pandemic. But to help navigate a course through this uncertain water, Abdulah believes that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar should co-chair this roundtable. It would also include two Government and Opposition MPs each, representatives of the PNM and PDP members of the Tobago House of Assembly and the 14 municipal corporations.
Once convened, the round table will set up a national assembly: an interim body consisting of civil society, business, labour, NGO and Faith-based organisations. The roundtable should work out the details of the National Assembly, including the Terms of Reference.
Abdulah also wants the State to include Persad-Bissessar in briefings from public healthcare professionals on the fight against the disease. In turn, Persad-Bissessar will join the Prime Minister in promoting the steps recommended by our healthcare professionals.
“Given the participation of the Government and Opposition in key discussions on the way forward, an agreement to cease the partisan attacks at this time is in the national interest. There will be ample opportunity for party politicking after we have overcome the pandemic,” Abdulah said.
Although the National Assembly would not have legislative power, Abdulah believes it can act as a consultative body that would enable national consensus on actions. These include steps to ensure the preservation of livelihoods and the process of recovery and changing Trinidad and Tobago.
Whether the government accepts the MSJ’s proposal, Abdulah said there are urgent tasks it must undertake.
It includes the introduction of Rent Control legislation to protect tenants from being evicted during the pandemic. It can also stop landlords from raising rental prices.
The MSJ called for a meeting of the Central Bank and the commercial banks to reduce bank charges, provide a moratorium on loan payments and reduce interest rates. The Ministry of Finance, it said, should increase the Salary Relief Grant to $2,500 per month and extend it to the end of the lockdown and provide similar support to artistes.
As it related to healthcare policy, Abdulah said there needs to be faster processing of the COVID-19 test as the MSJ received reports of people dying before getting their results. He said the process of home isolation needs reviewing as many people live in circumstances that do not allow social distancing and the isolation of an ill family member. He suggested the use of some community centres as quarantine facilities.
Abdulah suggested that the government also ask Cuba for more healthcare professionals, offer short-term contracts to retired nurses and doctors, including those who worked at Petrotrin, to assist in the vaccination drive and work at hospitals and quarantine facilities.