The main opposition St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) on Monday described as “draconian, excessive, without logic and good sense,” the decision of the Allen Chastanet government to introduce new protocols so as to ensure better control of the borders and prevent the illegal entry of persons into the island.
“The St. Lucia Labour Party is calling for the immediate repeal of Statutory Instrument No. 165A of 2020 published in the Official Gazette on Friday 30th October 2020….pursuant to Section 18 of the Covid-19 (Prevention and Control) Act which the Government had, only a few weeks before, hastily rushed through Parliament in the most questionable of ways.
“This Statutory Instrument essentially restricts local fishermen from leaving port for seven days, from Monday, November 2 to Sunday, November 8, 2020, ostensibly for border control reasons related to COVID 19,” the SLP said in a statement.
Last weekend, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, speaking at a news conference, outlining new measures to deal with the spike in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, said that the new measures could come into place by Monday.
“There is going to be some new protocols coming in place with regards to the border control, which will include the fishermen. An announcement will be made… and I know we’re going to be meeting with the different associations, but the likelihood is by Monday, that we will be suspending licenses for fishermen to go out, for at least one week.
“Again, that is to regain control of our borders and we will be looking at other measures to significantly strengthen our borders,” Chastanet said.
But the SLP said it “strongly condemns this action which is draconian, excessive, without logic and good sense” and “once again demonstrates that the current Prime Minister is absolutely apathetic and insensitive where ordinary St. Lucians are concerned and that his Government continues to lack empathy for the poor and marginalized in our society”
The opposition party said that fishermen are an important plank of the island’s rural economy and support the livelihoods of hundreds of households and the measure was taken even as the fisheries sector “did not benefit from any concessions as part of the COVID-19 Relief Programme”.
The SLP said that, like the farmers, the fishermen did not receive the promised EC$1,500 support for income loss.
“Is the Prime Minister unable to comprehend that the sector continues to suffer from the Government’s “gas tax” for roads applied to their operations on the sea? This action against the fishers will only bring unnecessary and biting hardship to St. Lucia’s fishing communities which are already reeling from the national economic contraction and from the Government’s closure of the St. Lucia Fish Marketing Corporation and its hand over to private sector interests.”
The SLP said that although the Prime Minister’s action against the fishers is being labelled as a border control measure, “it seems to be motivated instead by the need to maintain the “Backdoor” blame narrative for the recent spike in COVID 19 cases as this deflects away from the inadequacies of “Front Door” protocols”.
Chastanet told reporters last weekend that his administration is working with the authorities in the French island of Martinique in a bid to prevent the illegal entry of nationals into St. Lucia.
Prime Minister Chastanet said he was also encouraging St. Lucians who want to come home, to do so legally, “so that we can keep them safe, we can keep their family members safe and keep our communities safe as well”.
Martinique is one of the islands in the Caribbean with a high number of COVID-19 cases, with figures showing that as of last Friday, the French-speaking island had recorded 3552 COVID-19 cases.