Owners of bars, clubs, cinemas and others who violate Public Health Ordinances on the COVID-19 issue could now face a $50,000 fine and/or six months’ jail under legislation passed unanimously yesterday by government and Opposition.

It’s been changed from the six month’s jail penalty announced Thursday.

The legislation also removes penalties for non-filing of Company Register returns over March 27 to July 31. It also assists those renewing licences and doing other business in the current landscape where lining up and congregating is being limited to prevent COVID spread.

To facilitate the “breaks” being given, the bill amended legislation regarding the Motor Vehicles, Companies Register and Bills of Sale Act and the Public Health ordinance. The bill, passed in the Lower House after a two-hour debate, included Opposition amendments.

On Thursday, government issued a legal notice referring to a six-month jail term for bars which continued to open and restaurants, casinoes and members’ clubs which break the order. Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, piloting yesterday’s debate, said since people were ignoring moral suasion to heed safety advice, government had to take the legislative approach. He said the Public Health Ordinance referred to the Health Minister’s power to do anything admissible to deal with diseases. It carried a fine of $480, with or without hard labour, for breach of any regulation.

“It was for that reason the legal notice’s prohibition on bars and clubs referred to the six months’ jail term. We’re amending this to put a maximum fine of $50,000 and/or exposure to six months’ jail maximum,” he said.

The notice also extends to cinemas, he added.

The bill allows all driving permits, taxi badge or certificates issued by Licensing Authority—and which expires over March 27-July 31—to be valid until August 31.

“The intention is for the public to avoid lining up in Licensing or Works Ministry to extend permits,” he said, adding the development will ensure insurance contracts endure.

Transfers will be on hold until August. He added that inspections wouldn’t need to be done at this time.

At the Companies’ Register, where 15,000 people visit every three days, Al-Rawi said there will be an amnesty regarding penalties applicable for non-filing of company returns over March 27 to July 31.

The Legal Affairs Ministry on Thursday launched electronic payments. Delivery of claims and pre-action protocol letters can be done via email.

All licences issued by T&T’s Licensing Committee—pawnbrokers’, metal, mineral, clubs, liquor licences—which run the risk of expiring will be extended for the period. This prevents congregating in courts and protects owners’ insurance.

The period for registering instruments for bills of sale will be extended from the current seven-day stipulation to one month over March 27-July 31 also.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who suggested amendments, said the UNC supported COVID measures and need for restraint. She said the bill’s intent wasn’t objectionable and whatever UNC’s comments, these would be in the spirit of improving it. She agreed moral suasion wouldn’t be enough, adding certain measures would greatly benefit some.

“I love my country, we in the Opposition will do all we can to deal with COVID,” she added.

The Lower House adjourned to a date to be fixed. But House Leader Camille Robinson-Regis said there was the likelihood the House may return Wednesday to deal with Heritage/Stabilisation Fund law. If Government needs to access that funding, law to restructure the HSF will be necessary.

Earlier Al-Rawi said T&T’s situation was unprecedented and one should “expect the unexpected.” He said it wasn’t going to be easy and Government would go to Parliament to deal with financial matters to help citizens.