Saul on the road to Damascus: Lessons Learnt for our proud world economies

Frustrations mounting, but this is only the tip of the ice-berg. We have definitely not reached the bottom of the deep dark valley yet. This week discussions on radio have started venturing into the all-important direction we must now accept and deal with–Mental Health! COVID-19 has created havoc with a lot of families, left hundreds unemployed, and more devastated. The impacts of the crisis will worsen by the month from now on if borders still remain closed after June/July.

Too high expectations, false hopes

We are expecting and demanding too much from the Government. Luckily the previous Government saved money. Had it not done so, we would be in deep, deep trouble right now.

Yet the mounting pressure from all quarters as we’ve seen, read about and heard all over media lately is obviously pointing all fingers at the Government.

True to some extent because of the quashed hopes derived from the misleading information we were told on televised broadcast at the beginning regarding the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP), but the grim reality is now a very bitter pill that’s unacceptably hard to swallow by a lot of people.

We have serious lessons to learn out of this crisis. The management of the chaotic pandemic crisis though is not just the Government’s problem. Covid-19 isn’t the Government’s fault.

Future crises and pandemics will still not be the Government’s problem, though it will play its part in assisting as much as and where possible. It is important that we all start thinking logically and realistically ahead and talking about it now than wait till later.

Key question to pose at this juncture is, what do we do when the economy ‘contracts’ later this year (as predicted by our economists) and when more jobs are likely to be axed, and when we might not even have another ESP to rescue us? Already the current ESP has denied all but operators and employees in the tourism sector any support, albeit at a turtle slow pace.

Vanuatu’s media association has voiced its concerns and the rest of Vanuatu’s private sector has done also. Meanwhile, lobbying for support continues.

How far and how successful this eventuates, that remains to be seen.

But reading between the lines of the Minister of Finance’s diplomatic response in the media a few days ago when he called on businesses to take ‘social responsibility’ for their workers, that should have sounded a clear warning to everybody that we need to tighten our seat belts for some pretty rough ride on the roller coaster ahead of us. We talk about Vanuatu being a resilient country alright. But our real test of resilience will be exposed by how well we withstand future crises – pandemics or natural calamities.

Crisis management – our New Normal

Crisis management will become part of our ‘new normal’. Economist Dan Gay (who has worked in Vanuatu before as an ODI fellow) wrote a paper recently published by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London in which he pinpoints the fact ‘that vulnerability is an inherent and functional feature of the existing global order’, more so with reference to least developed countries (LDCs) such as Vanuatu, and that ‘Covid is only the latest in this nightmarish helter-skelter’. Dan continues, ‘the pandemic was no black swan.

It was entirely knowable and could have been prepared for’. But the world didn’t. We didn’t either, just like those guys just before the flood in Noah’s day. They were instead busy feasting and merry-making.

Nature speaks

Nature has spoken and will continue to into the future. Inside Viewpoints has discussed this line of thought from the angle of ‘public health’ at length in past articles. COVID-19 is the largest public health promotion ‘campaign’ we have ever seen in Vanuatu’s history. Normally this should reduce the number of patients appearing at our health facilities, as seems to have been the case lately.

But now that we are destined for more trouble ahead of us, as a people whose national motto is founded on an honorable motto as ‘Long God Yumi Stanap’, are economic stimulus packages sufficient to see us through?

Spiritual Stimulus Package?

As Dan Gay argues, ‘the next economic crisis or pandemic could be even worse’. Will we be able to withstand it (or ‘them’ – in view of the triple crises whose aftermaths we’re currently struggling to manage)?

The haughty Roman soldier Saul was almost literally slapped off his high horse by an invisible hand as he went on his proud journey along Damascus’s dusty road, oblivious to what was going to happen to him that day.

The immediate impact of that fall from power and glory blinded the poor soldier, pretty much like what COVID-19 has done to proud world economies recent months.

Covid has terrified the entire globe together with its seasoned scientists, health experts, leaders and all. And yet it is a wholly invisible foe. What’s the solution? More ESPs? Saul, who was renamed ‘Paul’, was directed to a spiritual stimulus package to help him see and live, which he did.

Brother KG (to use his initials) recently suggested to a packed congregation audience that we might need to seriously start thinking about some form of ‘Spiritual Stimulus Package’ (SSP) in view of what’s coming – as warned by global health authorities and people like Dan, as quoted in this article. Of course, ‘spiritual’ is an abnormal word for secularists to even take a split second to think about. To them, who is God? And is He real?

Think of it like this. When our health authorities discuss ‘mental health’ publicly to help prepare people mentally and psychologically to face the current crisis and the uncertain future, what exactly are they appealing to? Aren’t they targeting ordinary citizens’ mental capacity to accept challenges, and to have hope? Ultimately where is hope? Isn’t hope related to a supreme God? Or is hope just a meaningless word founded on nothing? Maybe, after all, we each need some form of spiritual stimulus package to keep us in times of crises while atheists, secularists, agnostics and all others consider their only way out – suicide. We have hope. We must remain a people of hope.

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