‘We are asking for fair treatment, not handouts’

President Ali tells developed nations in call for equity during pandemic recovery

PRESIDENT Dr. Irfaan Ali is continuing his critical stance against developed countries that are guilty of isolating and discriminating against small and developing nations during the pervasive COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Ali’s latest reproach was voiced during the 15th United Nations’ Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) World Leaders Summit Dialogue III hosted in Barbados, on Tuesday.
There, the Guyanese Head of State made specific reference to the ongoing vaccine inequalities and polarisation that continue to affect countries such as Guyana.

Dr. Ali said, pointedly, that even though some developed countries are claiming to be recovering from the pandemic, part of their recovery includes discrimination and differentiation.
“The world is not recovering; it is the developed countries that are recovering…part of the recovery effort is to differentiate [in] vaccination,” Dr. Ali told the United Nations forum.

He used as an example, the fact that while many developed countries boast of vaccination rates that go well beyond 80 per cent, dozens of developing nations are recording below three per cent in the vaccination efforts.

“We thought that the pandemic taught us a singular lesson – that is, we are not isolated; we are all interconnected,” Dr. Ali deduced.
He noted, however, that based on the global COVID-19 response, greater emphasis has been placed on policies that contribute to isolation.
“It is not that the developing countries did not try to get the vaccines,” President Ali clarified.

He said that similar to Africa, members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) also exhausted every possible avenue to negotiate the purchase of vaccines from all suppliers.
“Many [other] countries did the same, but the vaccines were just not available to us – the developing world,” President Ali lamented.

The Guyanese leader went further to note that even though small and developing countries may not be wealthy, “we were not asking for handouts.”
“This message must be clear…we were not asking for preferential treatments. We were asking for fair treatment, and that is what we negotiated for – fair treatment. We were not granted fair treatment, that is the bottom line,” Dr. Ali stated.

He said that even though small and developing nations were “left on the back burner,” many went ahead to fend for their own chance of survival, trying to secure the lifesaving vaccines wherever possible. However, these efforts are now facing a backlash from developed countries that are moving to consider “vaccination for entry” requirements.

“Now we are told that if you tap into this source [for vaccines], you will not be able to travel to the US. How do we ensure that this path does not lead to greater isolation?” Dr. Ali queried.

He went further to say that even as small and developing countries push for economic recovery, the US$650 billion assistance that has been approved by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), will not do much.

As a matter of fact, CARICOM Member States are likely to receive some US$1.7 billion, which is merely one third of the funding required for the community’s recovery.

“That money is also coming with conditionalities,” Dr. Ali posited.
He contended: “The new money cannot come with conditionalities that were there in the past, because it will be out of the context of what we are faced with today.”

President Ali pointed to the fact that the region’s worries have also been compounded by issues relating to economic and learning loss, climate change, and the continued fight against the pandemic, all of which will hinder achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“It is estimated that we spend US$0.5 to US$1 billion annually, just to restore damaged infrastructure from natural disasters. So, if you take a ten-year period, we have to spend $10 billion, at minimum to respond to natural disasters,” Dr. Ali reasoned.

He said that there is a blatant mismatch in relation to what is required and the assistance being provided.
“…and unless we are willing to correct the mismatch; unless we are willing to address the issue of fairness and how we are treated, then this will be a prolonged problem for us,” Dr. Ali surmised.

In addition to the issues that require immediate responses, many countries have not even begun to assess medium or long-term impact of COVID-19.

“If the developed countries believe that they are recovering, then it is clear that their message to us is that we [they] will recover at the isolation of the rest of the world,” President Ali reiterated.

The Guyanese Head of State also emphasised the need for institutions to be boosted to promote and develop multilateralism.
To this end, Dr. Ali said that the bond that has been created between CARICOM and Africa is critical.

“It is the coming together of the numbers and the bringing together of the common objectives and common goal that would apply enough pressure on the system,” President Ali said.

He added that even though there are new commitments being made by developing countries on various issues, that is not what is needed. He said that countries in the developing world ought to be fulfilling their old commitments before venturing to make new ones.

President Ali underscored the need for small and developing countries to demonstrate that they are “equal partners” in global development, and are “prepared to do what is right.”

“Sometimes we are our own enemy, because we allow ourselves to be in a position that we have to get the developed world to come fix some of the problems that are basic,” President Ali said.

Also addressing the forum was Secretary General of CARICOM, Carla Barnett, who reminded world leaders that they have to keep pressing for the implementation of the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI), which will allow for a country to be assessed using more than just income-based data.

The MVI also takes into consideration climate as well as socio-economic challenges facing a country.
“We, therefore, call on the UN system to intensify collaboration with relevant regional institutions, particularly in the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, to make this index a reality,” Barnett petitioned.

She also led the call for major development partners such as the IMF and World Bank to “step away from the blinders” of measuring a country’s success mainly by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita and “apply what we learn in Development Economics 101 – that GDP per capita cannot be a measure for development, let alone sustainable development.”

The UN forum was hosted under the theme: “Building a more prosperous development path – matching the scale of the moment.”
Both President Ali and the CARICOM Secretary-General have lauded Barbados for hosting a successful summit.

Also speaking alongside President Ali on the high-level panel were President of the Republic of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta; Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan; Vice-President of the Dominican Republic, Raquel Peña; Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe; Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Winnie Byanyima, and President of the Inter-American Development Bank, Mauricio Claver-Carone.