When is an exemption to closed borders not an exemption after the borders are closed? I will return to this riddle, but let me first note that the limited testing for Covid-19 has been expanded in obvious response to queries about its previous deficiencies.
There was room to acknowledge that the Ministry of Health’s strategy to manage Covid-19 within infrastructure separate from the established hospital system seemed sound so far. However, apparent provisional success does not come with an immunity from full disclosure and accountability.
Regrettably, material full disclosure and accountability have suffered. The first death of a patient has revealed a serious kink in the updates and commentaries that the Ministry of Health was giving us. It seems that this patient was never accounted for in the statistics that were repeatedly updated about the number of cases and the sequence in which they were discovered.
Incisive questions from the experienced Ria Taitt, of the Trinidad Express, concerning the time lines of the onset of this patient’s disease and his subsequent death were crudely interrupted and then shut down in disregard of public interest considerations. Such interventions may suggest cover-up.
Ministers and other officials ought to restrain themselves from wishing to control what appears in the media. The truth and the fullness of their disclosures must be under constant scrutiny even when something is touted as going well.
The government’s performances at the media conferences last week were diminished by an authoritarian mindset, and lingering credibility questions. This was exemplified by not treating with the facts of the case that led sadly to the first death and by the puzzling students issue.
Minister of National Security, Stuart Young, had vehemently insisted that the decision to close the borders at midnight on last Sunday was firm and without exception and he made no mention of bringing home students from Barbados and Jamaica. Yet, lo and behold, the Prime Minister announced that students from Barbados and Jamaica would be brought home. That is the context in which the riddle arose.
The next day Minister Young, his previous assertions having been undermined, asserted that those students coming in was not an exemption. It was he said ‘always part of the process’. I will leave it to readers to figure out how the decision arising out of that process was not the creation of an exemption.
The moment we have to parse the words the government uses, credibility sinks. It is reminiscent of President Clinton’s notorious answer about his relationship with his intern: ‘It depends on what the meaning of the word is is’.
The moment also that we are set discussing whether students should come in as opposed to other citizens in Margarita, Barbados and Suriname, we get into a discussion with subjective moral overtones—made more full of thorns by Minster Young’s melodramatic disclosure that a citizen currently in Venezuela has the benefit of resident status there.
If resident status in another country is a demerit when the Government is making a policy decision then plenty Trinis, who are normally resident here, are in trouble.
The government later changed its tune. While appearing to presume to give directions to the Courts to whom the Barbados group might turn, Minister Young conceded that if the citizens in Barbados present themselves here they will be put into quarantine.
Here is the next potential non-disclosure: Have the students already come in after the deadline or when are they coming? What are the quarantine arrangements? An undisclosed operation would not be acceptable.
It is also troubling that Minister Young should find it ‘disappointing’ that the media should have reported the concerns expressed by nationals who cannot return home because the borders have been closed.
There are arguments on both sides of the issue whether our borders can be abruptly closed to nationals with threats of no exemption. Democracy and freedom of speech require that they should be ventilated in the media.
Paraphrasing my quotes from Sparrow published in last Sunday’s column, those damn citizens are entitled to bark.
Meanwhile I am trusting that there will be no election spending mixed up inside the financial assistance measures.