Are we Punching Holes in the Emergency Protocol of SRO 15 – COVID-19?
Commentary by Tony LeBlanc
On Good Friday morning at about 6:40 am, I noticed the usual truck of Chinese construction workers driving up to the construction site of the community/resource centre at Trafalgar. In keeping with the instructions to the general public, I sought to inform at senior level, officials of the Dominica Police Force, as well as two government ministers.
I did not get to the Minister of Health and parliamentary representative for the area, the other minister did not respond to my inquiry, but three of the four (4) senior police officers did respond to me. My inquiry which was sent to the police contained the following details:
" Good morning ….Hope you are having a blessed Good Friday and Holy Week.I want to bring to the attention of the police the unpleasant situation of the Chinese contractor on the Trafalgar government building transporting and having at work a truck load of workers from about 6:50 am today [Good Friday].
I may be wrong but I was under the understanding that the country is under lock down and this includes construction until Tuesday morning.If that ought not be, the compliance authorities have to get them to comply."
The SRO 15 of 2020 - COVID-19 Emergency Powers (Disaster) –under Section 7(1)(g) provides "Subject to paragraphs 3 and 5, every non-essential establishment, or business shall remain closed except for the following - … (g) Construction and manufacturing projects, … may open between the hours of 6:00 am and 4:00 pm Monday to Friday."
Under Section 3(d), the SRO provides that "A curfew is hereby imposed throughout Dominica … from 6:00 p.m. on Thursday the 9th day of April 2020 to 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday the 14th day of April 2020, no person shall be out in a public place unless they fall within the exceptions stated at paragraph 4(3) or have written authorisation from the Commissioner of Police."
Paragraph 4(3) lists essential workers, in which construction workers are not one of those listed.
On Friday evening, I provided photography evidence to one of the police officers to indicate when the truck of Chinese workers left Trafalgar, at about 5:30 pm on Friday 9th April 2020, even so in apparent contravention of Section 7 for permitted work outside the curfew hours.
In a very kind and professional way, after I indicated that today Saturday 10th April 2020 that the same truck of construction workers had again been seen returning to the construction site, two of senior police officers indicated that their research had indicated that,
"They are operating within the law.
"Permission was sought and granted". One also indicated:
We need these government projects to continue on schedule."
One must therefore ask the following questions:
What is the essential in nature, or even of emergency in nature, about the construction of this building that its construction is of greater importance or priority than the Ministry of Health's protocol for all, citizens and non-citizens, and to further risk the spreading of COVID-19? Why can't those non-essential workers stay home – and observe the lock down from 6:00 p.m. on Thursday the 9th day of April 2020 to 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday the 14th day of April 2020?
What is so urgent about this building, the constructor's financial, or the country's economic position that permission had to be granted to allow work to continue at the risk of further spreading the COVID-19 virus?
Given that this project falls under the management of the Ministry of Health, are the Permanent Secretary and Minister aware of this situation, and consented to the granting of permission for continuation of this non-essential activity?
If the answer to 3 above is yes, what message and show of encouragement and gratitude are the Ministry of Health's policy and management authorities sending to the many front line COVID-19 health workers? Why are they being placed at more risk by permitting holes to be drilled in the protocol to limit and manage the spread of COVID-19 pandemic?
If the Answer to 3 is no, why should the Commissioner of Police give written authorisation for anyone to proceed with work during the lock down period without consultation and agreement with the Ministry of Health Officials who it is expected drafted these requirements?
Additionally, why should the Police Commissioner in his own judgement, place a greater burden on members of the police force to ensure compliance as is required under Section 7(1)(g) (i) to (v)? It is noted that our policemen are a category of front line workers also.
Can our health services deal with 10 Chinese employees who are critically ill with COVID-19?
Are Chinese construction workers lives less valuable than other residents?
How many other such projects are still active in the lock down period, and are they really essential?
Does the Chinese Embassy know about this? Does the Chinese Embassy have a responsibility to instruct all its nationals to comply with local law and not to seek to circumvent the Laws of The Commonwealth of Dominica by seeking unreasonable permissions? Importantly, will the Embassy see to it that its nationals display true friendship with citizens and residents of Dominica by complying with the COVID-19 protocol in an exemplary manner?
The people of Trafalgar or any other community should not be exposed to an influx of construction workers during an island wide lock down period.
I am calling on the Minister of Health, the Commissioner of Police and the Chinese Ambassador to all hold hands together with every Dominican to curtail and manage the spread of COVID-19 in Dominica by, not only abandoning non-essential work during lockdown periods but also, ceasing all non-essential work, including construction work, during the rest of the curfew period.
Let all those who ought to stay home, stay home and save lives.
10th April 2020.