(CMC) — Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit Wednesday said that the Commonwealth is uniquely placed to advocate on behalf of its members, particularly small states, on issues that threaten their survival such as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Addressing a virtual meeting called to share solutions and ways of working that can help to combat the impacts of COVID-19 that has killed more than 473,000 people and infected nearly 10 million, Skerrit said the 54-member grouping must also provide leadership on the issue of debt relief for small states and creative ways to reduce their debt burden.
Skerrit told the conference that the Commonwealth must continue to advocate for a vulnerable index for small states, to replace the gross domestic product (GDP) capita criteria applied to determine eligibility for grant or concessional financing.
“There has to be a way to unlock the funds that they were told have been set aside for dealing with issues relating to climate change,” Skerrit said, adding “we must address the issue of banking restrictions and sanctions and find workable solutions to de-risking
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the “inequalities in our society particularly as it relates to access to digital services” and “it is imperative that we have Internet connectivity to access government services, financial and educational services and general information for the well-being of the people”.
The Dominican prime minister said that as a result of early planning and quick action Dominica was able to implement a series of COVID-19 “containment measures that enabled us to restrict our infection rate to a total of 18 persons all of whom have subsequently recovered.
“We implemented closure of all our ports of entry to passenger traffic, instituted strict curfew measures,, shut down all non-essential services and implemented work-from-home protocols,” Skerrit said, pointing out that protocols for the wearing of masks, hand hygiene and social distancing were also observed.
He said while these measures worked the economic impact on the country has been significant and impactful.
Skerrit said sadly, while small island developing states like Dominica continue to face several inherent challenges, “the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have further exacerbated difficulties, including the limitation of funds to protect the health and well-being of citizens.
“This is simply because despite our best effort and will power, nothing can happen if resources are not available,” Skerrit said, telling the Commonwealth leaders that Dominica’s response to the virus meant that funds which were already earmarked for the 2020 hurricane season had to be re diverted to setting up a COVID-19 hospital and quarantine facilities and to provide relief to those who had lost their jobs
In a statement issued following the conference, the Commonwealth said many member countries are facing unprecedented challenges due to the global health emergency and its economic and social ramifications.
It said these issues combined with the long-term threat of climate change and the ongoing cyclone, and impending hurricane season, means that COVID-19 is seen as a substantial “tipping point” threat that has the potential to push member states into a period of significant crisis if swift and coordinated action is not taken.
The meeting was held after the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat received significant support for such a meeting from a majority of Commonwealth member states.
It said the participants explored and exchanged solutions on issues as diverse as technological tools that have helped in combating COVID-19 and the role of good governance in supporting the fight against the disease, as well as accelerating cooperation on trade and finance so as to mitigate against the economic impact of COVID-19.
They also agreed that urgent action be taken to tackle the acute and long-term impacts of climate change and for the Commonwealth to take the lead in building a “vision for a freer more equal kinder and collaborative world”.
The meeting noted that multilateral approaches “are required to address all of these challenges and especially to support more vulnerable members such as the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states, in light of the specific challenges they face,” the statement added.
SKERRIT… the Commonwealth must continue to advocate for a vulnerable index for small states