Chief Executive Officer of the Small Business Association (SBA) Senator Dr Lynette Holder is not pleased that the owners of a number of small businesses are being sent to prison pending sentencing for breaching COVID-19 protocols.
She is instead proposing that authorities look at a system of imposing fines on the guilty parties and focus the island’s scarce resources into tackling societal issues to help steer people away from deviancy.
“Why not just fine them? Slap a heavy fine of them, but don’t send them to Dodds,” said Holder.
“How can it be justified that these young black businesspeople, people who are now trying their hands at self-employment and entrepreneurship that we place a criminal record on their lives. Shouldn’t we reconsider this? I am advocating that we reconsider this. Let us reconsider fines for these kinds of breaches. I have a challenge in criminalizing these business owners,” said Holder.
Over the past week, several small business owners have been hauled before the courts for allegedly contravening the COVID-19 rules, with one magistrate even declaring that breaches of COVID-19 rules were getting worse, and that more “vicious fines” and jail time were coming for those who continued to flout the COVID-19 protocols.
Last weekend three of those business owners were sent to Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds, pending sentencing.
While making it clear that she did not support anyone breaking the law, Holder insisted that the business owners should not be made to spend a day in prison, but should be punished with a fine.
“Let me state for the record that I do not support anybody breaking the protocols. The Small Business Association does not condone any business breaking the protocols. You cannot be a law breaker and still expect the law to protect you,” she said.
“But I have a fundamental problem with what I am seeing in our justice system where we are criminalizing business owners for a breach in circumstances where several others are being given seemingly a slap on the wrist for the same alleged matter. I have a problem with that. How can you be sending a small black business owner to Dodds?” asked Holder.
The COVID-19 Monitoring Unit has warned that while its work was not to “lock up and charge” anyone, it would be going after persons who continued to sell items when they are not allowed to do so.
Holder said while there were those who would argue that the non-essential business operators had received several warnings “I am saying there must be some fine system, some penalty of fines that we can introduce instead of placing this criminal record on these business owners.
“I am not saying what they do is right – if they break the law then find them guilty, but the punishment that is being introduced, oh my goodness,” said Holder.
She told Barbados TODAY she believed authorities should get a move on addressing other societal issues, adding that people were struggling to cope daily during the pandemic and this was an area that required urgent attention.
“I think this is where we may be ought to be placing resources. How can we address some of the societal ills, some of these issues that people will not think or feel that they have no alternative choice but to resort to deviant behaviour. That is the concern I have,” she explained.
“We are seeing some sections of society that are sliding into deviancy. Shouldn’t we be focusing then on how to correct that using our resources and our institutions and not to criminalize people? In my view, we will end up as a society just accentuating the problem.”
The SBA chief said the fact that some businesses were still breaching the protocols was an indication that they were “struggling with the issue of survival”.
“Beyond that though, there is an apathy that is creeping in,” added Holder, who suggested that people around the world were “losing hope and losing confidence in their leaders”.
“What has gone wrong that people are not even trusting in their leaders, that they are not believing what their leaders are saying any more?” she said.