Minister with responsibility for Commerce Donville Inniss today condemned businesses that put the “almighty dollar” ahead of the safety and security of consumers and staff in times of disaster.
It was a criticism of his Cabinet colleague Denis Kellman who owns St Elmo’s Moontown in St Lucy, as well as the proprietors of Carlton & A1 Supermarkets and Lemongrass Noodle Bar & Grill, all of whom had defied a national shutdown order by the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) last Wednesday during the passage of what was then Tropical Storm Matthew.
“In the event of an impending storm of weather that can place the lives of people at great risk, I think all of us in private and public sector, notwithstanding lack of law ought to exercise a level of great conscience and not to do anything that would place either our staff or our likely patrons at risk,” Inniss told the media.
Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite had described the decision to remain open as “irresponsible”, and at a news conference the following day, Acting Prime Minister Richard Sealy had said Brathwaite was looking into the matter with a view to possibly making it mandatory to comply with state-declared orders to shut down.
Inniss, the Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, told the
media today he “certainly support and respect the positions” taken by his Cabinet colleagues but there was no need for legislation to force local businesses to obey such orders.
“I don’t know that we need a law. We have always been a very considerate society, not one that in the midst of a threat like this focuses on the almighty dollar, but more focus on the life and wellbeing of our staff, patrons and family,” Inniss said, adding that it was an issue on which Cabinet would pronounce due course after advice from the appropriate experts.
“I think though, at the end of the day all of those who have come under siege in this have taken note and certainly will perhaps in the future operate slightly differently,” he added.
Managing Director of Carlton & A1 Supermarkets Andrew Bynoe and operators of Lemongrass have since apologized. However, Kellman has remained defiant, insisting in a Facebook posting that those criticizing his actions were “jealous” that his “mall” was able to serve customers on the day.
“Moontown’s Hardware would like to thank all its critics who wanted services and could not get them, but were jealous because our mall was opened to serve Lucy’s children and her friends. We were there for you during [Tropical storm] Tomas [in 2010] and you praised us; during the flooding in Holetown you were happy that we were opened. I am sorry that we sold nails etc for you,” he ranted.
Meanwhile, Inniss, who was in Europe on official business during the passage of the tropical cyclone, said he was grateful that Barbadians generally heeded the DEM call, and that there was no loss of life here.
However, with Matthew having become a dangerous Category 4 hurricane, placing Haiti at risk with life-threatening rain, wind and storm surge, and with the Bahamas, Cuba and Jamaica also in its sight, Inniss said he was hoping for the best for his Caribbean neighbours.
“I hope that they are not severely affected and if there is some damage all of us in the region are able to come together to offer a level of support in spite of whatever challenges we have of our own,” the minister stated.