SAN Fernando businesswoman Jowelle De Souza went to her hairdressing salon yesterday although the Government had not yet given the green light for businesses such as hers to operate.
De Souza stayed at her business place at Independence Avenue, San Fernando, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in what she called a stand for small and medium business owners to return to their operations.
On two occasions she was visited by police officers of the San Fernando Police Station who warned her against defiance of the Public Health Novel Coronavirus Regulations, which if found guilty of, a person is liable to a fine of $50,000 and six months imprisonment.
De Souza told the Express that she did not call out any of her nine workers to join her, and did not have any clients, but instead took numerous calls from business owners who agreed with her stance.
The businesswoman also sought advice from attorneys on whether or not she can take legal action against the Government for their failure to allow the business sector to fully reopen.
On Saturday after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced that the stay-at-home measures in the prevention of the potentially fatal Covid-19 virus would be lifted in phases, starting mainly with allowing the sale of food for takeout and curbside pick-up, De Souza took to social media and expressed her disagreement that other businesses were not included in the lifting of the sanctions.
De Souza has attempted to contact the Prime Minister, and to have the issue raised with Minister of National Security Stuart Young, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh and Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram at yesterday’s media briefing during the media and public’s question and answer segment, but she said her questions were ignored.
In an interview with the Express at her hair salon and spa, De Souza said, “It’s a pity that KFC and other food takeout businesses are being allowed to open and we are not able to open our business. It is so totally unfair. I am taking this stand although I know people would not take the risk and come out to the salon to take the risk to be arrested by the police. But I have had people calling me about going forward with a plan to take legal action. All we can do at this point in time is to make it a public matter, because there are so many people who need to return to work.
“If we don’t work, we can’t pay our bills and we don’t know what to do. At this point in time the only thing we can do is to take them to court. While I own my property, I still have to pay my utility bills and my nine employees,” the businesswoman said.
De Souza said that she and her employees will take the necessary precautions and sanitary protocols as restaurants in her hairdressing and spa services.
“We can place a sink on the outside for hand-washing. My floor space is extremely large so there will be social distancing. I decided to work by appointment service so that there will be two clients at a time, with only having myself and one employee. So that is just a total four people, wearing masks and carrying out the necessary safety practices and protocols against Covid-19,” she said.
Former minister of justice and retired High Court judge Herbert Volney responded on social media saying that he was in De Souza’s “corner”.
“Jowelle is right. Small business people must now defy the illegal regulations and unlawful discrimination of the Government and take such appropriate action to defend against abuse of fundamental rights and freedoms. I have no doubt that there is not enough place in our police stations and jails to lock up the tens of thousands of small businessmen and women and the hundreds of thousands of their employees and customers. There is a compelling constitutional law argument that the Minister of Health cannot lawfully issue Regulations under the Public Health Ordinance to authorise the arrest of five or more persons assembled together on private premises, or even in public spaces. Only Parliament may do so or the Executive under declaration of a period of public emergency”, posted Volney.“These Covid-19 Regulations purport in their intent and execution to derogate, abrogate, and infringe fundamental rights and freedoms declared in sections four and five of the Constitution. They do not form part of existing law saved at Independence, and in their execution and reach serve to treat part of the business community in a discriminatory fashion against the clearly declared constitutional provision against it,” the former judge wrote.
Volney continued, “ Should the police seek to arrest Jowelle de Souza or any other of the thousands of business men and women for opening their businesses from Monday, the courts will be inundated by hundreds of actions seeking declaratory relief under the Constitution, and damages both general and aggravated to be assessed for loss of income and deprivation of rights and freedoms. Go brave Jowelle. You have me in your corner to fight down these illegal Regulations and have them struck down.”