A DELEGATION representing fishermen on the island was meeting with Prime Minister Allen Chastanet as we went to press yesterday in the hope of having him repeal Statutory Instrument No. 165A of 2020 that restricted fishers from plying their trade for seven days.
The decision taken by the government to keep fishermen from leaving port was revealed last Friday and came into effective Monday of this week.
The backlash was swift and on Monday morning a small group of fishers descended on the Castries Waterfront to air their dissatisfaction with the decision taken by government saying this will severely prevent them from feeding themselves and their families.
The fishers claimed that they are small business owners who suffered last week from bad weather and for no reason government is making them suffer more this week by preventing them from conducting business.
Admitting that fishers provide a tremendous service to the country Prime Minister Chastanet said the reason for the action taken was to secure the country’s borders from persons illegally entering the country who could be infecting Saint Lucians with the COVID-19 virus, and to give police the time to get on top of the situation.
He pointed to nearby Martinique closing its borders saying that “we felt that would increase the number of persons wanting to come to Saint Lucia.”
But according to the fishers, while they understand the need to protect Saint Lucia’s borders, legitimate fishermen should not be the issue as they do not engage in backdoor shuttling of people into the country.
The fishers on Monday called for dialogue with the Prime Minister which they got yesterday, the outcome of which we have no knowledge of as yet.
Meanwhile the Saint Lucia Labour party weighed in on the matter via a press release stating that the action taken by government that forbade fishers from going out to sea this week was draconian, excessive, without logic and good sense.
“It once again demonstrates that the current Prime Minister is absolutely apathetic and insensitive where ordinary Saint Lucians are concerned and that his Government continues to lack empathy for the poor and marginalized in our society. Fishers are an important plank of our rural economy and support the livelihoods of hundreds of households. Can’t the Prime Minister not comprehend what one week’s loss of income will mean to them?” noted the SLP.
“Does the Prime Minister not realize that the fisheries sector did not benefit from any concessions as part of the COVID-19 Relief Programme; that, like the farmers, the fishers did not receive the promised $1,500 support for income loss? Is the Prime Minister unable to comprehend that the sector continues to suffer from the Government’s “gas tax” for roads applied to their operations on the sea? Why is the Government not sympathetic to a sector comprising in the main of courageous, hard-working, enterprising Saint Lucians?” questioned the SLP.
Saying that the action against the fishers will only bring unnecessary and biting hardship to Saint Lucia’s fishing communities which are already reeling from the national economic contraction and from the Government’s closure of the Saint Lucia Fish Marketing Corporation and its hand over to private sector interests, the party claimed that such a move by government severely disadvantaged fishers who have had to resort to old ways to market their catch, while not fetching competitive prices.
“Although the Prime Minister’s action against the fishers is being labelled as a border control measure, it seems to be motivated instead by the need to maintain the “Backdoor” blame narrative for the recent spike in COVID 19 cases as this deflects away from the inadequacies of “Front Door” protocols. It is telling that one certified accommodation property has since recorded seven cases of COVID-19 and that this hotel has not been shut for any length of time yet, instead, fishers – none of whom have tested positive for COVID-19, are being asked to stop their business operations,” stated the SLP.
This act of targeting local fishers again shows the Prime Minister’s blatant biases, preferences and misplaced priorities. This country needs leadership that is not brutish, rash and without compassion but one that is prepared to consult and dialogue with its citizens.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party understands the need for additional measures to curb COVID 19 but urges the Government to provide more sensible, meaningful and non – discriminatory steps to combat its health and economic challenges, while properly guarding ALL doors, front and back.