President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) Eddy Abed has called for a national discussion at the level of the Social Partnership on a national shutdown policy.
A week ago, during the passage of what was then Tropical Storm Matthew, some businesses were open and some privately owned public service vehicles were plying routes, despite a islandwide shutdown ordered by the Department of Emergency Management (DEM).
The fact that some businesses were open has since sparked a heated discussion among Barbadians with one Government minister accusing an unnamed Government source of giving the public “confusing information”.
Addressing the monthly business luncheon of the BCCI yesterday, Abed added his voice to the discussion, saying while he was pleased there was no loss of life or major property damage, he was unhappy with the time that some services had to close off.
“The effectiveness of both the protocols and mode of implementation of disaster preparedness need to be critiqued with a view to improving their efficacy,” the Chamber president said, pointing to the more than “two-hour” travel for some commuters “from or through Bridgetown” to their homes, a journey he said would normally take some people about 40 minutes.
“We cannot be content for supermarkets and gas stations to be closed at 6 p.m. – a time too early to accommodate the needs of many citizens trapped in the gridlock. The stakeholders need to re-examine a means of staggering closing times. Perhaps those businesses which provide the least essential services should closed first with the businesses which provide more essential services closing later,” Abed suggested.
This, he said, would ensure there was neither panic nor confusion “at a time when citizens seek leadership, guidance and comfort” from the DEM.
He made it clear that the Chamber did not support the opening of non-essential businesses during a national shutdown.
“I wish to reassure Barbadians that it has never been the position of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry to flout the law by operating businesses during a national shutdown, essential services and businesses exempted,” said Abed.
He suggested that the country’s Social Partnership, which comprises representstives of Government, the private sector and labour, meet and discuss the issue “in the near future so we can collectively set a best practice protocol, before rushing to add another layer of legislation”.