CONFUSION. Legal challenges. Reluctance to fly.
These are what we could be in store for down the road unless the Government clarifies its policy on the management of the borders and the issue of whether citizens abroad have a legal right to come home.
Ahead of the planned reopening of the country next month, the Government should learn lessons from what occurred over the past year. It should take the opportunity to spell out clear and coherent rules for its border management in order to remove uncertainty and eliminate arbitrariness.
On Saturday, the Prime Minister gave notice the borders will open come July 17. This three-week notice is in sharp contrast to that given last year, when it was announced on March 21 that the borders would be closed. The measure took effect within hours, on March 22.
It is ironic the borders were closed at such short notice in the absence of a declared state of emergency, whereas now, in the middle of such an emergency, time has been given for people to prepare. (The Cabinet has a discretion to vacate the emergency before its default expiry date of August 30.)
The exigencies of an unfolding public health emergency last year might explain the abrupt decision taken back then, but the situation has clearly changed.
There is now a greater appreciation of the human costs of depriving citizens a chance to come home.
It is also clear the State has struggled to manage effectively its own exemption process, placing many thousands of applications in the hands of a Cabinet minister and facing allegations of favouritism and abuse.
The State should say what role the Minister of National Security will now play in overseeing any issues that might arise from the reopening. It should also publicly clarify whether it sees a rapid closure of the borders as an option at its disposal in future should circumstances once more change.
Will the same minister again have to handle an exemptions process, should the occasion arise?
Clarification is needed especially because of remarks made by former minister of national security Stuart Young, who is on record as saying citizens can leave, but there are no guarantees as to their coming back home. Is this the position of the current minister?
There is legal disagreement locally over the scope of a citizen’s rights in this regard.
In sharp contrast, other countries have tailored their border-management policy in order not to trammel what they see as a fundamental right. For example, every citizen of Jamaica has a right to enter Jamaica. Every citizen of Canada has a right of return.
To avoid currently unforeseen circumstances, consequential disputes and distress, it is not good enough for TT to leave this fundamental issue hanging in the air.