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'Acting for change’

19 July 2022

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Health vs wealth: ‘We are all in this Vaka together’

Saturday 29 January 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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Health vs wealth: ‘We are all in this Vaka together’
Columnist Thomas Tarurongo Wynne. Photo: CI NEWS/16040843

The question remains, and one I also have thought long and deeply about, does the health of a country come before the wealth of a country, or does the wealth of a country come before the health of a country and its citizens., writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

Fifteen days now and close to 300 people, tourists, Cook Islanders and workers on each flight have touched down in our beautiful Ipukarea, and filled cars, buses and vans, escorted, masked and happy - off to their accommodation or family home. More than 4000 people have fled the rigors of a Covid Aotearoa to a Covid free Cook Islands, and with that our bubble has well and truly burst. Countries all over the world have wrestled with this same dilemma and governments and country leaders have all had the onerous task of making these critical decisions, based on what has seemed to be, two very simple questions. Health or wealth?

One thing is certain when decisions have been fixed in concrete, leaders globally have had to recant and change their minds, maybe hoping that the decision was fixed more in sand, or wet concrete than firmly in the ground, as the situation we all find ourselves in, globally is one that has moved and shifted over and over again.

Governments have had to move with this change, often having to jump over their own words to get to where their country needs to get to.

Nonetheless the question remains, and one I also have thought long and deeply about, does the health of a country come before the wealth of a country, or does the wealth of a country come before the health of a country and its citizens. 

But are the questions actually that simple, as much as we would like them to be, because on one hand, if we simply see it as the health of a country before its wealth, then we would in fact encircle our nation, close the borders, not allow anyone in or out, and hunker down in the hope that the pandemic will pass and we will simply come out again, like survivors of a nuclear holocaust rising from deep concrete bunkers to a new, but very different world.

And what world would we emerge from? One where our economy is non-existent, one maybe where we were solely dependent on other countries in aid or loans, and have little if any resources to provide the basic needs of our population, water, infrastructure, education, power, internet and health. Because without a country’s income stream, we cannot service the basic needs of a country’s population and in the end, my question is do we arrive at the same place if we had instead decided wealth before health? Especially if health assumes that this means we close our borders and nation down. There is an element of damned if we do and damned if we don’t, a sense of choosing your poison, choosing the hard road or the harder road, but either way we are going to feel pain, one way or the other.

Which is why we entrust politicians, those in health, education and leaders in our faith communities and civil society to make these decisions, we entrust them with our lives, spiritual lives and wellbeing, and expect them to make the right decision. Or, when we get the chance we vote and either reward them for the decisions they made or punish them. Everything is political, it’s a reality of those of us that work in politics or governance, no matter where in society it may be, that everything eventually has a political lens along with the health, and the wealth of a country. 

And why we continue to pray for our leaders that they will make wise decisions in tough and difficult times, and tough decisions, because that’s what they are ultimately tasked to do. 

For those of us with strong opinions on what governments and leaders do or don’t do, we go to bed each night without having the singular responsibility of standing alone with very public decisions, having to muster the courage to weather the potential unpopularity of those decisions and to ask for humility, to bow the knee, knowing in those critical moments we need wisdom beyond our own understanding and human points of view. 

Health before wealth, or wealth before health, actually both of these ideas are too simplistic and minimise the sheer complexity of our current situation. They both come with their own set of challenges. Fortunately, when I go to bed tonight the burden of that decision will not sit on my shoulders, just the consequences of that decision, and in that respect, we are all “e vaka eke noa” - in this Vaka together.