(CMC)— The Trinidad and Tobago government Wednesday defended its decision to seek a further three month extension of the state of emergency (SOE) that has been in place since May this year, saying it is necessary to maintain the gains made in the efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has killed 1, 244 people and infected 43, 344 others since March last year.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, tabling the motion to extend the SOE, said his administration would continue to be guided by the medical and scientific community and dismissed opposition concerns that the measures adopted in the past have been a failure.
He told legislators that after examining the position where the country now stands as the first extension of the SOE comes to an end on August 29, that while “we are in a much better position than we were at the beginning of the 90 day period of state of emergency…we are not at a point where we can now dispense with the state of emergency.
“Because if we do that…it is more than likely that the response that will come from the population this time with this level of infection will see us having huge community spread, leading to another phase of activity which may force the government to have to take even firmer action and restrictions.
“So we are saying…in protection of the gains we have made, not the least of which is all of these people we brought back out to work during a fairly high level of community spread, to protect those gains, we need to pay the price of giving up some of the night time socialisation so that we can depress this plateau even lower,” Rowley said, in reference to the 9.00 pm to 5.00 am (local time) curfew that has been in place since May.
“The only reason why we are extending, or asking for this state of emergency to be extended is so that we as a population under the terms of the state of emergency as will be described along the way will discourage the population from socialising at nights between nine ‘o clock and five o’clock’ in the morning that is the only reason”.
Rowley said he has noted the many statements made regarding the government’s decision to seek an extension of the state of emergency, which only requires a simple majority to be passed in the Parliament.
He said among the reasons being put forward is that the extension has to do with the upcoming elections for the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), where on the previous occasion, the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) and the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) led by trade unionist, Watson Duke, each secured six seats in the 12-member THA.
“Madam Speaker let the records show that there was a general election due in 2020 and there was no state of emergency. We went into a general election without using a state of emergency for election purposes and we won it.
“And Madam Speaker …the most ridiculous thing I have heard and the most donkey logic I have heard is that before the emergency we had a low number of infection and now we have a higher level of infection so the emergency is not working.
“ That has to be donkey logic with a capital D because you cannot look at the low levels before to determine whether you should continue the emergency because the emergency was invoked on the projection that the numbers will be higher if you don’t act and it is on that basis we intervened and the emergency created the condition for us to bring the numbers down”.
Rowley said that if the argument being advanced is adopted then “all medication will now be in trouble because you will say before I was sick I wasn’t’ taking a tablet and I am taking the tablet now and I am not sick, so don’t take the tablet”.
Rowley assured legislators that while the government has sought a 90 day extension of the SOE, the first opportunity to do away with it, based on the advice of the medical and scientific community it will be removed.
“I give the community the assurance we will end it right there and now,” he said.
Opposition legislator, Rudranath Indarsingh, who gave the main response to Rowley, presentation, said that there were sinister moves behind the decision to extend the SOE and that workers would be severely affected as a result.
He told legislators that the labour movement had also publicly expressed its disapproval of the decision by the government to extend the SOE by 90 days, asking whether or not the Rowley administration had consulted with the labour leaders ahead of the move to come to Parliament.
“What is the real agenda? Did you consult with legitimate stakeholders in Trinidad and Tobago before you embarked upon this journey to suppress the civil liberties of the people of this country,?” he said, noting that he was asking those questions in the context that workers. Labour leaders and others will not be able to congregate.
‘They will not be able to lead demonstrations and engage in protest action. Madam Speaker the traditional form of a true democratic society is to let the opposition, whether it is in the Parliament or outside of the Parliament to have a say,” he said, adding that he had been informed that the government would be using the SOE to “unravel its policies.
‘We came to this Parliament with a very open mind and having listened to the Prime Minister we have a responsibility based on interaction with stakeholders in the society to raise the issues,” he said, noting that workers at several state agencies are likely to be affected by the government’s policies.
“All I am saying to the government, and all I am saying to the wider Trinidad and Tobago, Madam Speaker based on policy positions adopted by the government, workers are very concerned that the SOE will be used to implement their policy position of bulldozing and suppressing their rights from a recognised majority union point of view Madam Speaker,” said the former trade unionist.
He said the founding fathers of the labour movement “would be rolling in their graves and they would have all been in opposition to the extension of a state of emergency…and that is why if you examine the history of this country you will know that the PNM has always used state of emergencies to suppress, to attack the rights of workers”.
Indarsingh also raised the question s to whether the government “the largest employer in the country” would be considering making it mandatory for people to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.