Sep 14, 2021 Letters
I wish to state at the outset that I write this letter not as a lawyer but as a citizen of Guyana. A legal opinion on the factors that govern this topic is not appropriate here as it will be too lengthy. COVID-19 and its variant off-shoots are now rooted in Guyana and we all need to be cognisant of this and its effects as the disease has no respect for anyone. The Government has the responsibility to ensure that the nation is safe and in order to do this, regulations have been passed from time to time in which the freedom of assembly, freedom of association and the freedom of movement which are enshrined in Articles 147 and 148 of the Constitution of Guyana have been restricted. The Government has promulgated regulations in which only vaccinated members of the public and employees are allowed into offices, banks, institutions, malls, supermarkets, etc. If not vaccinated then an appointment has to be made by members of the public to be attended and a State employee has to produce a certificate of being COVID free periodically. Article 149 A of the Constitution states that no person shall be hindered in the employment of his or her right to work, that is to say, the right to free choice of employment.
The question to be asked is whether the constitutional rights of the citizens of Guyana have been breached. To answer this question, one has to look at the responsibility of a government and at the Constitution. It is stated that a government is an institution through which leaders exercise powers to make and enforce laws. A government’s basic functions are providing leadership, maintaining order, providing public services, providing national security, providing economic security, providing economic assistance and safe guarding the public health.
The effect of the restrictions employed by the Government is aimed to protect the public health of the nation by indirectly forcing everyone above 12 years of age to be vaccinated. Some members of the public are against the restrictions that they must be vaccinated so as to be able to work and that if they are to produce a certificate periodically to show that they are COVID free then they demand that the Government should bear this cost. They argue that they have a freedom of choice to be or not to be vaccinated. They say that they have a freedom to enter and work even if they are not vaccinated and the concerns of those persons who are vaccinated and would wish to work in an environment that is COVID free is no great matter. Those teachers who are not vaccinated and who are in the ranks of protestors seem to see nothing wrong for them to be with children who are not vaccinated.
I would wish at this point to refer to the Constitution of Guyana at Chapter 11 which is headed as follows – PRINCIPLES AND BASES OF THE POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL SYSTEM where at Article 25 it is stated – Every citizen has a duty to participate in activities designed to improve the environment and protect the health of the nation. Article 149J states as follows – (1) Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to his or her health or well-being. (2) The State shall protect the environment, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures designed to – (a) prevent pollution and ecological degradation; (b) promote conservation; etc. These Articles in addition to the case laws of what occurred in several other jurisdictions is the basis for what the Government is doing.
It is my view that the Government is correct to take the measures that necessitate vaccination and restrict the entry into public spaces unless a certificate of being COVID free is produced periodically. When you live in a society of persons, you are subjected to restrictions. You just cannot do as you please and whether you recognise it or not, we all have been living with restrictions for centuries now. You cannot walk naked on the road. You cannot curse or abuse or slander a person publically, you have to drive on the left side of the road, you have to be vaccinated for polio, chicken pox and other diseases as a child in order to attend school. You have to queue up to be served, to enter into a plane, to pass through immigration and customs, to drive a motor vehicle, even to build or reconstruct on your own land. You have to pass exams before you can practice as a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher and other professions. Our daily life is full of restrictions which we do not recognise as such and they are not breaches of our Constitutional rights. If you want to live in a society, you have to abide by the rules for the greater good. If not then find an island and live there.
The Government has to traverse a thin line between protecting the collective health and well-being of the public and curtailing the constitutional rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution. Our Constitution gives to the Government the responsibility of ensuring that the environment is not harmful to the health of the citizens. The term environment can be safely argued to also mean that the Government must enact such laws that make the citizens safe from such diseases, pollutants, viruses or other matters that may be in the environment. Without a doubt, the COVID -19 Virus is also being spread in the air and as such is in the environment. The duty of the Government is to take such action so as to eradicate or minimise the spread and would be failing in their duty, if they did not.
However when constitutional rights and freedom are being curtailed then there must be trust and solidarity between the Government and the public where both parties take responsibility. Unfortunately one has to ask the question whether politics is playing a part in some persons and organisations which are resisting the measures taken by the Government. It looks that way at times. My body, my choice! My right to choose! You cannot tell me what to do! The public relations in the fight against the disease have been poor! Not enough education has been done! These are some of the points that those who oppose vaccinations have been touting. I have seen and heard a lot of education and encouragement in favour of the vaccine in the media and perhaps a new look at what is being published should be looked at.
Science is in favour of the vaccine and this has been recognised universally from the WHO to the United Nations. As far as I am aware no country has stated that vaccine is not recommended. Those who are against it should produce their scientific materials so that it can be examined. I saw in the media recently that Member of Parliament, Mr. Jermaine Figueira from APNU, downgrading vaccination and touting that herbal remedies can fight the disease. Others have asked him to produce the scientific data to back his assertion and I also join, to ask him to please educate us. I wish to ask him if he has been vaccinated and if so why? Please tell us! My last question is to those persons who do not want to be vaccinated. That is your choice and I respect it but if you get the disease and have to be hospitalised at the public institutions and moreso at the COVID Hospital, who should bear the cost of your treatment? I estimate that if you were to be a patient and being treated at a private hospital, your bill will be in excess of $100,000 per day. Why should the State bear this cost? If you infect others and they have to be hospitalised, why should you not be responsible for the costs and loss that they suffer? I would be grateful for the answers.
Lastly, I cannot support the contention that the Government or any private sector employer should pay for periodically testing employees to certify that a person is COVID free. What absolute nonsense.
K. A. Juman-Yassin S.C, A.A.
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