Sunday Express Editorial

We make no apologies for returning to the vexatious issue of the Government’s exemption requirement for returning nationals, which continues to be riddled with accusations of discrimination, bias, corruption and governmental heartlessness.

To be absolutely clear, this newspaper has no objection whatsoever to the managed closure of T&T’s borders currently in place, or the requirements for negative tests and quarantine. We accept border control measures and public health regulations as vital for the population’s protection against Covid-19. What we take strong objection to is the additional imposition on citizens and returning residents of the requirement for permission from the Minister of National Security to enter the country. We have searched and can find no other country with this requirement for nationals and permanent residents, but would be happy to be pointed to such by the Minister of National Security. Even countries with some of the toughest Covid-19 immigration regulations, such as Australia and Singapore, specify that the requirement for entry approval does not apply to their citizens or permanent residents.

As of right, citizens and permanent residents in every country except T&T are free to enter their countries subject to getting a seat on a reduced number of flights, as nations manage their borders tightly in line with their Covid-19 resources. In addition, an increasing number of countries is requiring everyone, citizen and visitor alike, to present evidence of a negative test for Covid-19.

On the map of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) displaying Covid-19 Travel Regulations around the world, Trinidad and Tobago stands alone as the only country with a blanket requirement for permission from the Minister of National Security.

The granting of sole power to the Minister of National Security to determine whether a citizen or returning resident is to be allowed into their country was shocking. Worse, however, is the ease with which this measure has been accepted by many as being normal. Such acquiescence is due to the Government’s selling of the exemption requirement as a border control measure against importation of Covid-19. This newspaper has repeatedly made the distinction between effective border control and the exemption system with its unnecessary bureaucracy and politicisation of the border-management regime.

The December 29 statement issued by National Security Minister Stuart Young following public debate on the exemption granted to the Prime Minister’s daughter gives an insight into the muddled thinking that led the Government into this disastrous policy. Whereas governments around the world operated from the principle of their citizens’ right to enter their own country, and developed their Covid-19 management policies on a framework combining border control with public health regulations, the T&T Government seemed to have no confidence in managing such a system. It therefore elected to place that power in the hands of a single Government gatekeeper with all-too-predictable consequences.

We note the Government’s recent signalling of planned changes to the exemption requirement which came with a warning that some people may not like it. We are aghast by the suggestion of another punitive measure, when what is needed is the complete scrapping of this offensive, dysfunctional and hurtful policy.