Please permit me to respond to the editorial entitled ‘Playing politics with People’s Lives”, which was published in the Trinidad Guardian on Monday 20th December 2021.
This editorial contains so much erroneous information and outright fallacies that one must wonder if it was actually written by senior journalists at one of our nation’s major newspapers or rather by politicians at Balisier House.
Firstly, your assertion that I have “never made a public appeal for citizens to get vaccinated “is quite simply untrue. I wish to remind the Trinidad Guardian that since my press release of 18 February 2021 I have publicly called on record for the Government to get serious about its vaccination policy, as other Governments in the region had already secured vaccines while our Government sat passively waiting.
On March 1st 2021 I publicly wrote to the Government of India to request that free Covid-19 vaccines be made available to Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago via India’s Global Vaccine Maitri program. This was done in response to the Rowley Government’s failure to procure any Covid-19 vaccines, whilst at the same time, our CARICOM neighbours were benefiting from India’s generous program.
While the Rowley regime attacked me for attempting to acquire Covid Vaccines, the Trinidad Guardian never bothered to scrutinise Rowley’s absurd claim that he didn’t know about India’s Vaccine program despite the fact that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly disclosed it at a United Nations General Assembly Meeting at which Rowley himself attended.
In the meanwhile, Keith Rowley led attacks criticising and casting doubts on vaccines from India, and also from those which the private sector had offered to secure. In March of 2021, when we still had no vaccines in the country, I pleaded with the Government to facilitate the private sector’s offer to secure a batch of 351,000 Pfizer vaccines. The Government refused to do so and, again, cast negative aspersions on the vaccine offer itself.
Secondly, your claim that I have never encouraged citizens to be vaccinated is also blatantly false. I have begun every single public event or address during the past year with a call for citizens to consult their doctors and consider being vaccinated.
Pictures of my own vaccination were publicly covered on August 12 2021 in the Trinidad Express and on Loop Media among others. The Guardian Editors can also if they wish see a picture of me being vaccinated as it has been the cover photo of my public Facebook Profile for months.
I expect that the Guardian will now issue a full retraction of its glaringly false statements concerning my record on vaccines and vaccination.
The Guardian’s desperate attempt to paint me as being an “anti-vaxer” relies on a complete departure from reality. It is part of the attempt to cover up for the Rowley regime’s catastrophic failure in both procuring vaccines in a timely manner, with appropriate communication/messages and facilitating a widespread vaccination rollout.
The truly worrying aspect of this editorial however is the manner in which it glosses over the horrendous failure of the Rowley regime’s Covid 19 response or lack thereof. The Guardian suggests that the failure of the Rowley government to act quickly to save the lives of over 2,612 of our citizens is a “moot point”.
The Editorial even praises the Government for its “decisive action” on imposing mandatory vaccination despite the fact that other than bullying threats, Keith Rowley has yet to explain how his intended mandatory vaccine program for the Public Service is to work.
The Editorial also conveniently ignores the fact that the Government’s proposed policy contradicts an explicit statement by Industrial Court President, Deborah Thomas-Felix — also reported in Guardian — that mandatory vaccination cannot be unilaterally imposed by employers.
Apparently, Guardian editors share Keith Rowley’s view that serious government policy impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens is crafted via dictatorial edicts delivered from a podium.
I find it hard to believe that those who sit on the Guardian’s editorial board fail to understand the nuance that not supporting mandatory Covid -19 vaccination is not the same as being anti-vaccination. Policymakers need to ensure that crafting laws merely on good intentions do not open Pandora’s box of unintended consequences.
Mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations strike at the heart of citizens’ constitutional rights, human rights, privacy rights and raises serious ethical questions about the reach the state has over the lives and civil liberties of people.
The Rowley regime has failed to consider any of these serious questions and Rowley’s attempt to now bully citizens while holding their livelihoods as ransom is despotic and despicable. It is itself a disqualifier that shows the PNM cannot be trusted to be given sweeping new powers over the lives of citizens.
Authoritarian Governments across the globe have used the Covid -19 pandemic as a shield to impose draconian laws to suppress individual freedoms and liberties all in the name of keeping the public safe. One would have assumed that a newspaper that purports to be the “Guardian of Democracy ” would be concerned about this disturbing trend and be extra watchful of ALL of the Government’s policies during this pandemic.
Sadly it appears the Trinidad Guardian is now more focused on guarding Keith Rowley’s Government rather than the principles of democracy in Trinidad and Tobago.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC, MP
Leader of the Opposition
20th December 2021