SINCE the start of the penalties for breaching curfew, there has been some unease about the application of some of the fines – and two cases have brought that to a head.
One teenager was fined $700 for selling coconuts on the side of the road and two men were also fined for collecting water from a public pump.
These two cases have brought a rush of support for those accused. When one supporter went to court to pay the fine of the coconut seller, they found that it had already been paid by another organisation.
Selling two jugs of coconut water and two or three pieces of coconut jelly was that teenager’s crime.
There are two elements here – firstly, the curfew was of course brought in for reasons of public health, and breaches of the curfew require some punishment if it is to be any kind of discouragement.
Secondly, though, there is the consideration of public health. The point of the curfew is to reduce contact, and minimise the possibility of transmission of the virus. So in weighing the cases before the courts, consideration should be given to how likely it was that the individual concerned might be risking transmitting the virus. If someone needs water before 5am and goes to the pump, the likelihood is they won’t be in close contact with other people – so perhaps some of the enforcement might be dealt with in a more practical manner.
More, you know who agrees with ensuring people are not burdened with a criminal record for minor offences? Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
In the wake of moves to decriminalise marijuana, Dr Minnis talked about the rehabilitation of offenders, saying: “We want to give our countrymen a freedom and a future they have been deprived of because of minor offences.”
More than that, when the pandemic hit, there was talk from then Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands of how COVID-19 could affect anyone, rich or poor.
That might be the same for the virus, but it’s not the same for the economy. Those trying to make a buck selling coconuts are not affected in the same way as the restaurant providing pick-up orders. The rich person getting deliveries to the door is not affected the same way as the poor person having to walk to a pump to get their water. The essential worker who has to stock shelves in a supermarket is more exposed than the person who doesn’t have to go out to work.
The effects of the pandemic are many and widespread – but one of them is that it shows up the inequality in our society.
In talking about rehabilitation, Dr Minnis went on to say: “We want to expunge the records of these young people so they can have a clean slate and get back into society and travel, find jobs, qualify for visas, etc.”
Let’s make sure that people are being penalised for serious breaches, and that those trying to sell a little to survive or going out to get some water are supported and have what they need rather than being caught on the wrong side of the law.
Let’s not make the inequality greater.
Why did answer take so long?
It took from Sunday until last night for Dr Minnis to explain why he had kept some islands closed and allowed others to open.
In short, it is that if you open up all at once, and more than one starts to have infections, that could overwhelm the ability to manage any rush of patients. Open up a few, see they’re okay, then open up more.
Some – like Andros – get to go ahead in the queue because of the crab season. Others have to wait.
We’re not sure why he couldn’t explain that at the time – nor why Dr Delon Brennen, who told The Tribune he did not know the reasons why some islands were being kept closed, should be criticised by FNM chairman Carl Culmer for his honesty.
There was also a suggestion by Dr Minnis that an assumption has to be made that people may have visited Exuma and Eleuthera and potentially brought the virus with them.
Who visited? We don’t know. We don’t even know if someone visited. It is an assumption. Dr Nikkiah Forbes, in a separate interview, suggested that direct flights from Europe to certain islands or frequent visitors by boat may play a part in the decision – but again these are suggestions, not bare facts.
What matters here is that clarity and transparency are the way forward. It should not take days and a back-and-forth to different experts to get an explanation of the decision. If managing the potential spread was the reason, simply say that. As ever, the truth is always the best choice.