A Bridgetown magistrate has called on Barbadians to educate themselves about the COVID-19 protocols to avoid unnecessary breaches. He applauded the government’s news conferences and the media for disseminating information but said some Bajans were not retaining the information.
He made his plea yesterday after a farmer, who considered himself an essential worker, appeared in court charged with breaking the 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
Before Chief Magistrate Ian Weekes could finish reading the charge which restricts persons from leaving the house unless they have a personal emergency or are essential workers, Damien Albert Brathwaite interrupted the court and said: “I am a member of the essential service.”
Attorney General Dale Marshall recently explained that farmers with ministry-issued ID cards are allowed to operate between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. If the farmers want to operate in the curfew period they must apply for an Emergency Pass through government’s websites or through the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS).
On February 18, 2021, Brathwaite, a livestock and vegetable farmer was caught breaching the curfew. Today, the court ordered him to pay $4 000 in six months or face three months in jail.
The facts indicated that around 9:30 p.m., a car was seen speeding along Green Hill, St Michael. Officers caught up with the vehicle by the traffic lights at Barbarees Hill and Baxter’s Road in St Michael. Brathwaite turned left onto Hunte’s Street and police signalled him to stop. He exited and made his way to the back of the vehicle. When asked why he was on the road he told officers: “I am a farmer, people owe me money. I have cows to milk at 3:30 a.m. I have produce in St Philip that where I now come from.”
Weed and seeds were found in the car after police conducted a search.
Brathwaite said the $30 worth of drugs was given to him by a rasta man. However, today he said the weed belonged to a man who worked with him during the day. He was placed on a three-month bond for having the illegal drugs. If the bond is broken he has to pay $1000 forthwith or spend 30 days in jail but no conviction will be recorded.
“What is an essential worker? You understand what an essential worker is?” Weekes questioned.
Brathwaite said he was a dairy farmer and usually milked cows at 3:30 in the morning. He queried whether such would be considered a breach of curfew.
In the “first wave”, Brathwaite said he had an emergency pass but he was told that those in charge were having problems with the electronic passes. He then explained that he then was told to use the farmer’s identification card from the Ministry of Agriculture.
The Supers, St Philip resident said he wasn’t quite aware of what was going on in the last 48 hours as he was on his farm, sleeping in his car so he “can start at the time and don’t leave”.
Appearing confused, he said that he was then informed about going on a website to get emergency passes.
Weekes explained that there were distinct changes between protocols this year and those last year.
“You farmers are not keeping up-to-date, just like a lot of small business persons are not keeping up-to-date. And it is absolutely clear to me that y’all are not listening to the media in any form or fashion,” Weekes charged.
He added that it seemed like people are “getting up in the mornings and depending on how they feel they are operating to suit”.
“There may be other farmers like you going out there at 1:30 in the morning and none of the farmers would pick up a phone and call the BAS or any of agencies to ask a question…7 o’ clock to 6 a.m., during the hours of the morning is when a lot of the criminal element will be out doing their business. I would like to think that those of you in legitimate businesses should have representation made on your behalf but the bulk of you don’t join any association or any organisation and that is why we are where we are,” he continued.
Brathwaite admitted that he had been a member of the BAS but due to an issue he was no longer with them.
“Wouldn’t this be a perfect time, given the challenges, that y’all are facing, for you to be a part of a group? As other farmers may have similar problems and the group could lobby and get things done?” the magistrate queried.
“I believe the authorities are doing a brilliant job but the passing of information- that’s where the problem coming now” Brathwaite said, suggesting that more be done to keep persons updated.
The farmer claimed his smartphone was destroyed and he was “back down to a hello/goodbye text phone”. He said the BAS and AG through the ministry could pass on or update the information through text along with other media.
The magistrate asked Brathwaite his whereabouts when the news was being broadcasted and he said usually on his farm because of praedial larceny.
“You can’t be living in a country and not find time to sit down and be educated as to what is happening in the country…You have to find a source so that you can know what is going on,” Weekes responded.