Ensure enforcement of fines for COVID-19 safety breachesWednesday, March 24, 2021
The Government's push to amend the Disaster Risk Management Act has been too long in coming, given the blatant disregard of the law being demonstrated over the past year by many Jamaicans, which has contributed significantly to the current spike in the number of novel coronavirus cases.
While we believe that the Administration moved too slowly on this matter, we acknowledge that at least something is finally being done.
Indeed, as defence attorney Mr Peter Champagnie, QC, stated in yesterday's edition of this newspaper, the move to amend the legislation is a step in the right direction.
The Bill, which was tabled at the meeting of the House last Thursday, addresses the importance of public observance of the COVID-19 safety protocols, including wearing masks, observing six feet of distance between people, and constant sanitisation to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As we reported yesterday, the Bill includes a Sixth Schedule with 10 tiers of offences and penalties with fines ranging from $3,000 to $500,000.
According to the memorandum of objects and reasons, the provisions of the Act which deal with offences are being bolstered to make it an offence for failing to comply with measures imposed under Section 26 of the Disaster Risk Management Act “with the intent of discouraging and ultimately reducing breaches of the measures implemented to address a calamitous event”.
Essentially what is being introduced here is a ticketing system which, as Mr Champagine correctly noted, would reduce the burden on the Jamaica Constabulary Force, which is already stretched dealing with crime.
While we welcome this effort, we must point out that, for it to have any effect, the technical and follow-up systems must be in place. For we have seen the fiasco that obtained with traffic tickets that, at one point, had a backlog of more than 240,000 unpaid vouchers.
So, if people who are ticketed for breaches of the Disaster Risk Management Act decide to avoid paying the fines, the State must have the resources to find and prosecute them, and the punishment for displaying such contempt for the law must be severe.
We have made the point repeatedly in this space that consistent enforcement of the law is a great failing of the authorities. Had the opposite been true, Jamaica would likely not be in the current position of spiralling COVID-19 cases which have forced the Government to implement tighter measures on people's movement, including three consecutive weekends of lockdown.
It is clear that people cannot be left to flout the law as they have a mind, because in the end there are consequences if they end up in hospital or infect others who then have to be hospitalised, calling upon scarce national resources.
Older Jamaicans, and maybe some of our younger citizens who grew up with their grandparents, would know the saying “Hard ears pickney dead a sun hot.” The message is similar to the old adage, “Who cyaan hear mus' feel.”
We are at that point now in our battle with the novel coronavirus where people who refuse to abide by the safety protocols must pay for the consequences of their selfish actions. The authorities must also ensure that punishment is not swayed by class or station.
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