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Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial

Newly-installed Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial has slammed Government’s approach to making mask-wearing mandatory, calling it “half-baked, wishy-washy and ineffective face mask laws.”

“It is ill-thought-out and has instilled panic, fear and hysteria in a population that is still reeling from the impact of its mismanagement of the pandemic…the actions of the Government continue to appear haphazard, lacking both proper planning and any attempt at effectively legislating,” Lutchmedial said in a release yesterday.

She took issue with the Public Health (Amendment) Bill introduced in Parliament on Friday by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, noting it did not deal specifically with the wearing of masks but sought to amend the parent act to facilitate a fixed penalty system to which the Minister of Health was given power over.

“The AG did not heed the calls by Opposition members in both Houses to have the details of the law subject to the scrutiny of Parliament; a call that was echoed by legal minds on the Independent bench,” Lutchmedial said.

She said the regulations enforced yesterday leaves citizens confused and misinformed while leaving “extensive room for interpretation” by those who have the unfortunate task of enforcing it.

“This places the police in an embarrassing position, where they must enforce a law that is uncertain and unclear, leaves innocent members of the public to the mercy and arbitrariness of law enforcement and exposes the state to the risk of avoidable litigation,” she said.

The arbitrary nature of the law, she said, could lead to “inconsistency, abuse and the violation of a person’s rights.”

“Even worse, it places police officers who are expected to enforce this law at the disadvantage of having to interpret the application of the law and when called upon in court, to defend their interpretation.”

Lutchmedial also condemned what appears to be conflicting information coming from both Minister of National Security Stuart Young and Attorney General.

“At the Prime Minister’s press conference, National Security Minister Stuart Young told the public that face masks would have to be worn by persons travelling in the same vehicle, even if they were members of the same family,” she said.

But she quoted the Attorney General giving a different explanation in Parliament. She quoted him as saying: “Persons in a private car who are members of the same household are not required to wear masks in that car. It would be artificial for one to suggest that they ought to be in an environment in the private home where they can freely interact and then in their own car, which is again a private space, not be able to interact.”

She reiterated the position of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar that the UNC remains prepared to contribute to the development of a robust legal framework to help curb the spread of coronavirus. However, she said she believed their, “assistance was flatly rejected by this artificial and incompetent AG, who continues to create bad law that intensifies the distress and inconvenience being experienced on a daily basis by a weary and vulnerable population.”

Efforts to contact Al-Rawi yesterday for comment by telephone were unsuccessful.