By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” March 11, 2022)
The Ralph Gonsalves government seems seriously confused. Its actions amount to an administrative law nightmare. How in a democratic society does a government respectful of laws issue a memo to change a regulation? It is crystal clear that this government accustomed to the ruling as it pleases has utter disregard for citizens and proper legal procedures.
This week, all of this became clear following a memo issued by Cuthbert Knight, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health. Knight’s memo claimed that his ministry had been instructed to “advise all permanent sanitation workers, who are presently off the job having not taken the COVID-19 vaccine and are willing to return to work, shall be allowed to do so without the vaccine”.
Before dissecting this memo, it is critically important to say that the Gonsalves government, packed with lawyers, doesn’t know a damn thing about the law. To bludgeon the workers into taking a vaccine, which at the time the demand was made it had been crystal clear that the injection’s efficacy was minimal to non-existent and safety questionable, passed SR&O 28 of 2021, which made showing up for work a criminal offence, now reverses the regulation with a memo. It deemed the workers absent and to have abandoned their jobs.
This memo gets a few things wrong. Workers were not off their jobs by choice. They were dismissed. SR&O 28 of 2021 compelled workers deemed frontline or essential to be vaccinated by Nov. 19, 2021. The regulation made it a criminal offence for an unvaccinated worker to enter the workplace. Workers who were not on the job for 10 consecutive days were deemed to have abandoned their employment.
The insanity of it all is reflected in the explanation of Health Minister Jimmy Prince. Prince told the media that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate did not apply to sanitation workers. The government, he said, made a mistake and was prepared to employ and pay workers who were forced to leave their jobs.
Prince, with the arrogance often displayed by his boss, doubled down on the government’s cruel and ineffective COVID-19 vaccine mandate: this development does not mean the government is backing away from its COVID vaccine requirement for frontline and essential workers. We made a mistake. We are correcting it.
What arrogance! What hubris! What a highhanded misuse of state authority! Forget for a moment those who stood firm in defence of their bodily autonomy and integrity and can now return to their jobs. Spare a thought for those with the threat of economic assassination, took the jab to keep their jobs to take care of their families. Who compensates those who suffered after taking the COVID injections? Is there an agency that monitors all those who took the jab? Is assistance being offered to those who suffered adverse events after taking the jab? Or are they simply being told that correlation is not causation?
Many people suffered severe adverse events due to vaccines whose efficacy is negligible to non-existent. Eric Buerla, Pfizer’s chief executive, disclosed that the vaccines “was of little or no use” against the current variant of the virus. The vaccine safety is questionable at best.
A few things need to be made clear. No science informed the decision to name sanitation or any other worker in SVG as frontline and essential. The designation was solely intended to force citizens to take the vaccine. By the time Gonsalves told workers to take the jab or lose their job, it was well known and scientifically established that both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons could contract and transmit the virus. By last December, the proof was in. Schools, government ministries and departments, which by then had only vaccinated employees, had to close. By January, the myth exploded when Parliament was postponed because eight “fully vaccinated and boosted”, parliamentarians from the government side of the aisle tested positive for COVID.
The current fiasco should have compelled a sensible, sensitive, and caring government to re-evaluate its entire vaccine policy. It would have apologised to the nation and people and seriously considered cancelling the policies. But not Gonsalves! He and his minions are prepared to continue punishing citizens who don’t bend to their will.
Add to this debacle the increasing cries of citizens regarding the government’s land acquisition policy, where it snatches land owned by citizens and refuses to pay adequate compensation. How could it be proper in a democracy for a government to negotiate a settlement for property it acquires and then tells the property owner to await a call from the Accountant General as to when to collect the purchase price? A call that has not come more than a year after the property is acquired and the income-generating structure destroyed?
Can we honestly claim that our country is a democracy governed by laws rather than the dictates of men when the ruling party refuses to honour declarations made by the court that deems its actions illogical, unreasonable and illegal? Are we living in a democracy when the government snubs the judiciary that commands it to pay damages and costs for its illegal actions?
Those of us who are guided by policy and not blinded by politics need to place our country before our party of choice. The arrogance of the Unity Labour Party government and its bad policies need to be checked. SVG is in urgent need of a reset. Such a reset will not amount to an end of civilisation moment.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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