GMSA crisis response idea must be taken to next level quickly

News of the recent drying up of overseas markets for local wood products and the serious threat that this development poses to jobs in the sector and to the sector itself ought to have come as no surprise More than enough has already been said about what threatens to be an incremental economic downturn that will impact heavily on the export sector in particular and will have a knock-on effect on employment, consumer liquidity and, by extension, spending and we must begin to come to terms with the very real possibility of changes in the shape of our economy as a whole  by the time the crisis is over.

If the recent GMSA press statement is by no means alarmist, its undertones, notably its candid call to the banking sector to exercise more “tolerance” in its interaction with businesses, suggest a deep and genuine worry over a still unfolding situation. It is by no means common for private sector organizations to make the kind of appeal that the GMA is making and its recent press release is as blunt in its assessment of the magnitude of the crisis as it is deliberate in its analysis of the required response.

What the GMSA is advocating is a crisis response, which, it makes clear, must of necessity, embrace all of the critical stakeholders in the society.

In specifically naming the financial institutions, the trade union movement and “civil society” as a whole, the GMSA is seeking a measure of collective response akin to the failed attempt at a social partnership involving the government, the private sector and the trade unions. That failed because of the peculiar predilection on the part of our stakeholders for not finding ways to agree on critical issues.  And since it is reasonable to assume that government must inevitably be a critical player in the collective crisis response if it is to go forward, one has every reason to wonder whether we can secure the partnership which the GMSA seeks, this time around.

The seeming gravity of what we are up against fully merits the kind of broad-based, collective action that is being proposed by the GMSA. The problem is that we live in a prickly political climate and whether, even in the face of an economic crisis of the magnitude of the present one, we can clear the political and other hurdles and pull together is not an issue that should be dismissed lightly.

The GMSA has made it clear, for example, that if the impact of the likely decline in the performance of the productive sector is to be cushioned, the consensus on the way forward must include a “tolerant” banking sector that is perhaps more accustomed to working at its own pace and being more contemplative in its decision-making.  No less significant is its stated expectation of the GMSA President that the consensus will include both of the two warring factions of the labour movement –  the GTUC and FITUG. In this latter case – and since issues of job losses are bound to arise in the course of this crisis – one wonders whether the two can work well together.

To its credit the GTUC has not only embraced the GMSA’s idea but has said that it is prepared to work with both FITUG and the government, if necessary, in the interest of the workers.  Still, there is cause for concern since we cannot pretend to be unaware of the fact that the government might have its own ideas as to how the crisis should be handled and may or may not wholeheartedly embrace the GMSA’s idea.

We maintain that a consensual approach to responding to this mounting crisis can mean the difference between “toughing it out” together, as a nation, and further aggravating the various already existing differences among some of the stakeholders and that is why we attach so much importance to creating a sense of understanding among the parties   as the starting point of the GMSA’s  mission.

The second point to be made about what the GMSA is seeking to accomplish is that its very generalized pronouncement must be quickly followed by a more specific outline of what its proposed consensus seeks to do and where it hopes to go. With so much at stake we can hardly afford yet another seemingly well-intentioned gesture that simply withers and dies for lack of any real follow up.

Our discourse with the President of the GMSA suggests that he is seized of the magnitude of his organization’s pronouncement and when we spoke with him on Tuesday he left us with the clear intention of sensitizing civil society to what the GMSA seeks to accomplish.

Time, it should be said, is not on our side and the quicker the GMSA can take this idea forward the sooner we will learn whether the economic crisis that we face and which, it is widely believed, will grow worse, can bring the parties  together.

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