WILD COOT: David versus Carlos
THE POINTS OF VIEW of Mr David Comissiong and Dr Carlos Chase will never be on the same pitch. One bowling leg breaks and the other in-swingers. There is an obvious collision.
Mr Comissiong has been taking up the cause of the poor, the forgotten and what he sees as inequalities for a long time. His days with the National Democratic Party (NDP) would have taken him from house to house assessing people whose position would never have been exposed; people who suffer in silence. A good example of this is what proliferates in Barbados now – people who look as though they can live comfortably but whose daily expenses require gymnastics from month to month dealing with bills, the household, medicinal needs, education and a whole swarf of confrontations that were not present just ten years ago. He would have patrolled the houses in his assigned constituency area and learnt first-hand that it is difficult, nay almost impossible, to assess a person’s ability to survive by just looking at the person.
In the matter of health care, I believe that he is worried that any privatisation of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) would establish who can pay and who cannot pay. But how and when (under what circumstances) is this assessment to be made in the light of varying experiences? What will be the criteria used by a private QEH to determine the need for an urgent medical procedure when assessing a person in the complex web of circumstances that we presently occupy? To compound the problem, even so in the present situation we do not seem to do a good job now that the treatment at the hospital is supposed to be free.
Dr Chase, on the other hand, is familiar with the day-to-day struggle with shortages and lack of finance encountered by the hospital. It must irk him as a highly qualified physician. If it were in private hands, there is the presumption that it would not be subject to an arbitrary $35 million cut in budget, but then would not be a server to all and sundry. The position of a fellow who lives in a big house who is asset rich but cash poor is not clear. Just suppose that there were no health insurance for him – just tough? There are many people in this position now. The cut in the subvention means that the QEH still has to cater to this category of people.
The cry by Dr Chase to put a cap on the liability of doctors may be a step in the right direction. Doctors’ fees must be such that they can afford the insurance that is called for to cover such an eventuality. This is a real fear. We do not have the demand for private treatment that can offset the cost of running the hospital and still cater to the demands of ordinary people.
I do not believe that we have handled the crisis well. If you start off wrong, then whatever you do will be wrong. The dilemma that both Mr Comissiong and Dr Chase is looking at is a function of that bad decision in 2008. The measures, and lack of measures, that have been tried in order to correct have only made it worse. Taxes have not been able to catch up with expenditure of Government. Furthermore, the measures employed by the Central Bank are unproductive, forcing commercial banks to adopt an unhealthy attitude to small entrepreneurs and business people.
This attitude by the banks is fine if you want to buy a house or a piece of land, or if you want a credit card limit extended. But say you want to manufacture clothing or open a restaurant, you would be lucky to get a hearing – and $1.1 billion in the Central Bank!
The overarching question is, where is all of the taxes that we are paying going? Shortly properties that cannot be sold because there is no market are going to be revalued upward. (Because I want money, he says!) The new taxes will be caught up in the upward spiral of debt payment, the genesis of the problem. Once our governor assured us that since the debt is mainly local, we had nothing to fear, but look at the many repercussions. Consider Mr Comissiong’s fervent cry for the hospital to remain under Government control and Dr Chase’s agony that the hospital is in desperate need of essential services/items that might be present if privately owned.
In a way, they are both crying out for the same thing. The funny thing is that it is rumoured that we seem to have paid huge sums as “consultancy” money that could have been spent on the hospital.
No, Mr Comissiong and Dr Chase’s views can never be reconciled, so they may as well kiss and make up.
• Harry Russell is a banker. Email [email protected]