With the health system now completely relieved of Covid-19-related cases, the Government must expedite the return of groups of nationals stuck on ships floating around in the Caribbean Sea and beyond and at The UWI campuses across the region.
For reasons that remain unclear, this process has been stymied even as quarantine facilities have become increasingly available and idle. It is now time to put an end to the misery being suffered by these nationals.
Now that the process has started with six nationals having been allowed in yesterday, we hope there will be no further hiccups or unreasonable demands by the Ministry of National Security regarding prior quarantine and testing as conditions for being allowed into the country. One cruise line, Disney, is said to be prepared to cover the cost of State quarantine in Trinidad for our nationals. Perhaps they have heard about T&T’s refusal to accept its own people in contrast to the attitude of other Caribbean countries. We should say thanks but no thanks. These are our people and we have everything in place to welcome them home and take them through the quarantine and testing process. This is, after all, the value of having budgeted for the parallel health system which is the proud boast of the Ministry of Health.
What we are still not getting from the Government is a clear policy and process for granting approval to nationals seeking permission to return home, and evidence of a schedule by which the Government is working. In the absence of this, the approval process appears arbitrary and lacking any basis in policy.
One would have thought that by now National Security Minister Stuart Young would have recognised the dangers of arrogating total power unto himself and would have moved to protect himself from charges of discrimination by placing the policy and process in the public domain as a matter of transparency. We recognise that the minister has been distracted by having to put out the political fires set by himself and the Prime Minister in the US/Venezuela fiasco. However, the ministry has an entire staff headed by a Permanent Secretary to conduct its business. There should be no reason why public servants cannot resolve matters on the basis of following policy.
For example, in Parliament last Friday, Minister Young cited the fact that travel agents had provided a blanket figure instead of a breakdown of nationals stuck on cruise ships, as if that was a problem contributing to delay. Unless we are missing something here, surely any functionary could request and receive a breakdown in a matter of minutes.
What people are seeking from the Government is information.
Businessman Jeffrey Azar, for example, wants to know why he was not granted an exemption to return home on the same plane and under the same conditions as approved for his friend Derek Chin.
UWI students want to know when they will be brought home, what will it cost, and whether the flights are open to fellow students wishing to return home to Barbados and Jamaica. As a former minister of communications, Minister Young should at least understand the importance of timely information in easing anxiety and limiting distrust.