National Security Ministry discloses exemption criteria

Devant Maharaj -
Devant Maharaj -

THE National Security Ministry has provided the criteria he uses to decide who will be allowed exemptions for return to TT.

The criteria were provided in response to a freedom of information request by Opposition activist Devant Maharaj.

Maharaj was not able to get a list of people who were allowed back into TT since the borders closed in March, but was given the criteria used to determine who will receive exemptions.

The response admitted it was a work in progress and subject to change as they were contingent on the expert advice of the public health experts to the minister in response to the global pandemic.

Maharaj and two women approached the courts seeking answers.

In response, Maharaj was told his request for the applications and a list of those who returned were exempt since it involved disclosure of personal information that would negatively impact that person’s life and could also result in revealing the identity of those who have tested positive.

Some of the factors taken into consideration by Minister Stuart Young include: whether there is accommodation available at any given time at the quarantine facilities; which includes the mandatory airing period between occupation – positive cases require longer airing periods before the facility can be used again; the capacity of the parallel health care system at Couva, Caura and other quarantine facilities to treat covid19 positive cases and the availability of health care workers to operate the system with the aim that the overall health care system should not be adversely affected.

Other factors considered include people with serious or critical health issues, the elderly, those with new-born babies and families with young children; when the application was first made; the length of time the applicant has been out of the country; the reason the person went abroad and the length of stay before the borders closed; if they had friends or family they could shelter in place with; the state of the spread of covid19 in those places; the number of nationals applying from different jurisdictions; their ability to make travel arrangements to return to TT and other factors which may arise on a case by case basis to demonstrate an immediate need to return home.

Also considered are the number of infections in TT and the nature of transmission as it impacts the state’s ability to effectively manage the spread of the virus without overwhelming the public health care system, the National Security Ministry’s permanent secretary Gary Joseph said.

In their application, Joanne Pantin and mother of a newborn baby, Raehana Lorick, have filed a similar application seeking information on the criteria being used by the minister to determine who will receive an exemption to return.

Lorrick gave birth in April in Texas and has a toddler.

In a statement, Maharaj said, “The Government needs to be far more forthright on both. It was shocking, for example, to hear the recent comment by National Security Minister Stuart Young that while the Government has set criteria for granting approval to nationals who have applied for permission to re-enter the country, it will not divulge the criteria because people might argue that they qualify under one or the other.

“Such defence of a lack of transparency was simply staggering," he said.

He added that it was a pity that the minister had to be taken to court.

“Now that the criteria have been disclosed, however, it raises more questions than answers as many persons who fulfill the criteria were refused entry whilst others who did not, were granted exemptions and allowed to come in.”


"National Security Ministry discloses exemption criteria"

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