The complexity and novelty of the COVID -19 pandemic requires the consistent and continuous engagement, consultation and collaboration with industry and sectoral leaders, technical experts and medical attendees, and with the public. Technological advances and the new modes of communication has made this easier today. it is not only anticipated by the people, it is demanded!. From the beginning of this pandemic, the Government has consistently failed to engage the public meaningfully and to make decisions using science and data. The Cabinet’s preferred unilateral approach to combatting the pandemic is wholly unacceptable!
Following this week’s Cabinet meeting, two egregious decisions have caused much consternation within the public domain: the decision regarding the government’s vaccination policy for frontline public employees and the decision taken to restrict unvaccinated persons from bars, restaurants and entertainment spots.
On July 21, 2021, a memorandum emanating from the Department of Immigration on the new vaccination policy gave an ultimatum to Officers and Auxiliary staff members “to become vaccinated against COVID-19 virus or subject themselves to a PCR test every fourteen (14) days” at their own cost. Similar remits, dictates and trauma are being inflicted on our workers in the private sector. Long held values of “right to work” and nondiscrimination are discarded by memos without regulatory alignment.
The Democratic National Alliance supports and respects the individual rights and freedoms which are enshrined in our Constitution. We commend persons who have chosen to be vaccinated and acknowledge and in many ways, understand why others may have some hesitation in doing so. We respect both sets of individual choices and outrightly condemn the campaign of slash and burn, and the scorched earth approach that the government has visited upon the unvaccinated individuals. We do not subscribe to the preferred big stick approach to force compliance with the government’s policy. It has not worked; it will not work and the social displacement and upheaval will reverberate beyond this period. It is not the only way!
Given the realities of both the economic and social challenges facing the majority of the population which have been exacerbated by the Gaston Browne’s Administration deliberate failure to provide any form of sustainable relief for families and businesses, the so-called options being forced upon public servants, and now upon workers in particular sectors and businesses, is tantamount to a mandatory government policy on vaccines.
Our public servants are woefully underpaid and many live barely above the poverty line. Cost of living has steadily increased while wages and salaries have remained stagnant. How will government workers who are unvaccinated afford the cost of testing which is so prohibitive? Certainly, the undemocratic and hostage-like position with its dire financial implications in which the Cabinet has placed our hard-working public servants and other employees could not have escaped them.
DNA’s President and Political Leader, Joanne Massiah, stated, “the Public Service Union must be respected and we urge the Cabinet to meet with the Executive of that body, and heads of other Unions as a matter of urgency to have full and frank discussions to agree upon the best approach to encourage more employees who work on the frontline to be vaccinated. Further, we assure the people of our country that a DNA government will always uphold the laws of our country and respect and safeguard the Constitutional rights and freedoms of our people while reminding those rights come with corresponding responsibilities.”
The derogations allowed by the Constitution require balance and thought if such a trigger is reach for.
Secondly, the infringement of the Constitutional right of free movement, further illustrates the disconnected and harsh approach of the Gaston Browne administration. The entertainment and restaurant sectors, like so many other businesses, has been ravaged by the pandemic yet the government opted to remain tone deaf to the cries by the stakeholders for government relief to assist them to stay afloat. Rather than working closely and collaboratively with the sectors, the Cabinet preferences a decree to restrict the movement of unvaccinated persons in the society from patronizing certain private sector establishments.
Where is the data, science and empirical evidence to justify these policy decisions, particularly at a time when the public, including business owners have demonstrated consistent management of the virus? These measures are simply to create an environment of duress within the population for mandatory vaccination.
As the government continues to pay only lip service to the call for inclusion of all political parties in the management of this crisis, the DNA will continue to urge the government to seek ways to consolidate and build national unity in its crisis response, including consistent and timely dissemination of information by the right people and in the correct tones.
Malaka Parker, DNA’s Chairman, remarked, “the government’s failures are real but I am satisfied that all is not yet lost… our people are resilient but they are disoriented and now thrusted into further psychological and financial hardship when the government has not utilized the easiest and most effective way to bring people along .”