Tue | Nov 30, 2021

Orville Taylor | DRMA and other dramas

Published:Saturday | October 9, 2021 | 12:11 AM

Doing it Right Matters Always (DRMA). It is not often that I agree with senior counsel Hugh Wildman, whose frequent outlying positions have caused me to suggest that he epitomises his surname.

This time, acting on the instructions of Reverend Jeffrey Shuttleworth, of Freedom Come International Ministry, the wild one is taking to the Constitutional Court to challenge the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA), under which the Government has implemented regulations to curtail the movement of the average Jamaican citizen as we face the killer coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Make no joke about it. With more than 85,000 confirmed cases and close to 2,000 Jamaicans having died, the challenge is real. Fewer than 800,000 Jamaicans have been vaccinated, therefore, the majority of the individuals who contract the virus hence have a three to four times higher likelihood of dying than them.

Given the inherent statistical problems with underreporting of social phenomena, I would bet any portion of Wildman’s legal fees that the numbers are higher. Indeed, so great is the risk that now fully vaccinated and having been deeply kissed by the perverted virus, I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

Thus, let me make it clear that I am struggling to find other words in my vocabulary for idiot to describe those who flout the government regulations by going out in public without masks. Having a stranger, or even a friend, breathing on my nape or talking up in my face, so close that I can see the remnants of callaloo between their teeth or smell the pungent odour of yesterday’s jerk pork and beer, is disgusting enough. Sending me an unwanted virus storm is a completely different matter.

REDUCING TRANSMISSION

Curfews, despite their violation by the undisciplined and powerful alike, make sense. Physical, not social distancing, is still the best tool for reducing transmission and despite some church leaders who are hell-bent on hastening their congregations to have a grand time up in heaven, there is nothing ‘Christ-ian’ about adding the virus as part of the holy communion.

Add to these measures the efficacy of the vaccines and the statistical correlations between horrible outcomes for the unvaccinated versus the vaccinated, and another synonym from my lexicon is being sought for those who are determined to pass on misinformation rather than guide individuals to make intelligent choices.

Yet, right is right and law is law. Freedom of expression, choice, conscience, religious worship, and movement, among others, are inalienable rights under the Constitution and the international canons on human rights. True, it is settled law that none of these rights are untrammeled because the public good and national interest always trump personal freedoms of the individual. However, if the Government wants to dip into my constitutional bag of rights, it must go through the proper statutory process under the very same supreme statute that gives it power.

Wildman’s argument seems simple enough. Section 20 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms empowers the prime minister to have the governor general declare a state of emergency, after which he can legally act under the Public Order and Emergency Power Acts and pass all the necessary laws except the buck. Law is not science and thrives on dissent between camps of the ‘learned’. However, if Wildman is right, and he sounds reasonable here, the right thing must be done rightly.

UWI’S CHALLENGE

A whole lot rests on the powers of the Government to enforce its guidelines. Indeed, on my plantation, the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Campus, the pandemic has caused all kinds of issues, not least of all, challenges to the examination process due to the sharp rise in cheating. Of course, the silver lining is that the vigilance of the UWI’s system worked. Therefore, the bigger alarm for me would have been if it were either not discovered or it were detected and hidden or the data twisted by corrupt men, who manipulate the evidence and system to suit their narrative. Thus, kudos to Principal Dale Webber and his team.

Still, as the UWI mandates face-to-face examinations in December 2021, it does appear to be running the risk of breaching the DRMA, with spacing concerns. Until the courts rule that the act is unconstitutional, it is as binding as the excruciatingly tight financial situation, which was created long before COVID-19 and certainly before his tenure began in 2018. If Mona can pull it off, by avoiding an outbreak or spike in infections and at the same time keep exam integrity levels high, Webber would have demonstrated the level of practical leadership that is so needed elsewhere.

Nevertheless, despite all these legal arguments, let us not confuse what is legal and what makes common sense. The possibility that the DRMA is unlawful does not mean that it should be flouted or that it doesn’t make sense.

Government may or may not have the right to tell you not to bunch up people in church, but will pastor refund the tithes to pay for your funeral?

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com