State of emergency will only wreak more havoc
OUR learned SC, Israel Khan, has called for the declaration of a state of emergency for a period of three months and a further three months if necessary, until the virus is no longer a threat to Trinidad and Tobago.
Mr Khan has also raised the alarming possibility that after the virus subsides, taxpayers (meaning taxpayers through the Government) may have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to owners of closed businesses through lawsuits.
Despite my great admiration for Mr Khan, I could not disagree more with his assessment/ prediction.
Firstly, a full human and economic shutdown will completely devastate our economy where we already have an external debt of about $120 billion (see economist Maria Dukharan in the Guardian of April 3).
Secondly, the absolute restriction of movement of people theoretically may only cure our country of the pandemic in the short term. There will still be many gatherings indoors of more than five persons. Or gatherings of persons bent on breaking the law. There cannot be policing of every nook and cranny of T&T. Further, what will happen when the state of emergency (SoE) is lifted, our borders are reopened and there is an influx of foreign visitors and our citizens travel abroad and mingle in virus-ridden countries only to return to T&T afterwards?
Should the Government then impose a further SoE?
Thirdly, the country is progressing under this coronavirus watch nicely. Citizens are heeding the stay-at-home orders. They are beginning to adhere to social distancing rules and the crowding and gathering in places outdoors is declining. Time will tell if those measures are bearing fruit. But certainly this is not the time to upset the apple cart.
On the prediction of the possibility of lawsuits en masse, from a legal perspective, it would be very difficult to establish that business owners did not heed the call to close businesses voluntarily when the Prime Minister made several nationwide appeals for citizens to practice social distancing, reduce activity and gatherings etc. but rather only closed businesses upon the passing of the new law (Public Health (Novel Coronavirus) (No.6) Regulations 2020.
In all the daily newspapers there are reports of businesses closing, not by virtue of a new and/or existing law but through the Government's call for people to stay at home.
Secondly, it hardly seems a breach of one's constitutional right to earn a living if your business can be closed anyway under the Public Health Ordinance or other laws where a business jeopardises the health and safety of its customers and employees.
Thirdly, any lawsuit that claims 'X' amount in compensation, for the person/party who loses, he or she will be called upon to pay a percentage of the amount claimed in legal costs to the State under the rules governing costs in the Civil Proceedings Rules of Trinidad and Tobago 1998 (as amended). Under these rules, the higher the sum claimed in damages, the greater the amount of legal costs that will have to be paid by the losing party.
I trust good sense will prevail in these unprecedented times.
Yaseen Ahmed Woodbrook