By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
CARLYLE Bethel, the head of the Free National Movement’s Torchbearers youth association, wants judges to be more measured and compassionate when enforcing Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ emergency curfew orders.
He spoke yesterday after Bahamians reacted bitterly to actions taken against those who appear to break curfew while trying to live during an unprecedented crisis. One judge’s decision to fine a teenager $700 for selling coconuts on the side of the road and another’s decision to fine two men who collected water from a public pump before 5am in the morning have sparked concerned commentary in recent days.
Yesterday, the Progressive Liberal Party and former parliamentarian Dr Andre Rollins hit out at what they view as unreasonable penalties imposed at a time when many Bahamians are struggling to make ends meet.
Magistrate Sandradee Gardiner fined Jason Williams $400 for selling roadside coconuts and another $300 for breaking curfew.
Mr Williams, 18, landed before the courts after police stopped to question him and asked for a valid business licence, which he said he was “working on” getting. He was arrested and taken to the Grove Police Station where he admitted to selling two jugs of coconut water and two or three coconut jelly pieces at his stand across from Mario’s Bowling Alley on Harrold Road.
Magistrate Gardiner warned him that if he failed to pay the fines he would be remanded to the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services for one month on each charge, to be served concurrently.
His fines were paid yesterday after concerned citizens raised the money.
Mr Bethel said yesterday: “When the Torchbearers saw that the young man was arraigned and charged, we felt we should come together and assist him. We raised $700 to pay for the fine. We went (to court yesterday) and once there we realised (Families of All Murder Victims) was there and paid the fine.”
Mr Bethel said the Torchbearers will seek to either help the man find employment or connect him to the Small Business Development Centre to get a business licence.
“We cannot make a law for every situation and that’s why you have the courts and magistrates, to interpret each case and use the law as a guideline and apply their own measured judgment to each case so we can have a measured approach,” he said.
“The government cannot instruct them on what to do, cannot direct on what to do and what to say so it’s incumbent on them to deal with these cases with a measured approach.
“The government is fighting a war on two fronts, health and economic, and is doing a good job so far and has been praised by the international community for their response. I think courts in exercising their duties and mandate should exercise it with love and compassion and do so with a measured approach in response to violations of emergency order.”
“I think it is important that we as Bahamians abide by the (laws put in place), they’re there for a reason. We don’t want to criminalise (the) entrepreneurial spirit of young people though. I deal with young people all the time in my role as president. Countries are closing ranks, looking in at their own people to supply business opportunities and goods that are needed. We have to do the same and encourage that entrepreneur, that manufacturing, that Bahamian industry if we want to come out of this on a strong footing,” Mr Bethel said.
Dr Rollins, meanwhile, said the country looked silly for fining a young man $700 because he sold coconuts on the side of the street.
“If the restaurant in Lyford Cay can sell wine to their customers,” the former Fort Charlotte MP said in a Facebook post, “how do you rationalise depriving a vendor exercising proper precautions the right to sell the coconut water to his?”
He was referring to an upscale market that was allowed to sell liquor while other alcohol merchants were prohibited from doing the same earlier during the pandemic.
Dr Rollins added: “In these difficult times, what if he cannot secure the $700 fine? Are you really going to jail him in a prison with a population of 2,000 that was originally made to house few more than 750? Through our collective outcry, we the public must compel our elected representatives to muster the country to speak up for the downtrodden. The persecution of the poor must stop. To the ‘competent’ authority: he who is powerful must be merciful.”
Justin Smith, an aspiring PLP candidate, said it is unconscionable that Mr Williams was fined for “violating an arbitrary curfew.”
“I will be advocating,” he said, “that when the PLP returns to office it wipes away these criminal records in all of these matters and returns the monies that were extracted from people in these unfair circumstances.
“This is not justice. This is injustice. This is not right. It is wrong.”