It’s true; sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it.
Dwight Sutherland, Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce, has recently come under fire for insisting that businesses operating without Government permission would be dealt with harshly.
He was referring to those businesses which did not fall under the categories which were authorized to reopen on May 3 as part of the country’s move to Phase 2.
Speaking to journalists after a tour of two supermarkets, Sutherland said once Government was aware of any firm operating illegally, they would be dealt with.
He declared: “The Government that I am part of is a very serious Government. While we are transparent and we value all stakeholders we still don’t value recklessness, we treat with indiscipline and I am certain the Attorney General who has the responsibility for certification in terms of which businesses should be operating, once it is known to him and it is known to the Government, the Sub-Committee of Cabinet will investigate and… I know they will address the manner in a holistic way, in a way so as not to cause any animosity and also to let businesses know that it is not business as usual.
“We have to adhere to the protocols that have been put in place to stem the spread of this virus and if it means closing down businesses, I guarantee that is open to the Attorney General through the Emergency Management Act and he will institute it.”
His comments though, while understandably meant to deter those from breaking the law, were interpreted by some as being high-handed and brusque.
With COVID-19 having resulted in tight restrictions that forced most businesses – especially small businesses – to close their doors, some of them opted to take the chance to reopen their operations to make some much-needed money.
While Sutherland obviously could not condone the behaviour of those small businesses who openly flouted the law, his threat of harsh action was viewed by some as being inconsiderate.
They believe that his role as Minister of Small Business is to connect with those small businesses which were mostly affected by the shutdown and to find ways to help them navigate through these trying times.
With over 30,000 people unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to understand why some people would take the risk to reopen, even though not authorized to do so.
There was a recent report that the Ministry of Health had expressed concern regarding the substantial rise in the number of people selling food.
This is not surprising, as, with many people unemployed and with no definite timeline as to when work will resume, the need for income takes priority.
No harm was meant by the minister’s comments and it would be surprising if any businesses were hauled before the courts or penalized for their actions.
And while many might view his ‘threat’ as ‘heavy-handed’ and ‘out of touch’, order must be maintained during this pandemic.
Barbados has fought this virus valiantly thus far, but the actions of one person can have serious consequences for an entire nation if Government’s directives are not followed.
The health authorities strongly believe that we are past the worst and by all means, there is no reason to doubt them.
It has been a long and hard road, especially for those who have lost their jobs.
But now is not the time for reckless behaviour. We should listen to the advice of the experts and hold strain for a little while longer. In the end, it will benefit us all.
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