At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst –Aristotle.
Unlike many in Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago, who ascribe their frequent near misses from hurricanes to divine intervention or seek to ascribe a nationality to God that tallies with theirs, my unlearned view inclines rather to the thesis that these countries lie outside the presumed “hurricane belt” and that what might frequently appear to be contrived diversions from hypothetical paths are in fact consistent with the traditional directions of these phenomena.
Of course, this does not create a total immunity, given the frequency and magnitude of these events, although it may ensure that any “hit” is akin to a deflection rather than directly off the meat of the bat, if you will excuse the cricketing analogy. Thus, it is my understanding that the hurricane that is still spoken about with awe locally, the one named Janet in 1955, for all the death, damage and dislocation it caused, was not a direct hit but rather had passed much to the south of the island.
In this context therefore, we should never leave ourselves unprepared for such another such eventuality and, fortunately, it has become almost cultural for locals to store an adequate supply of water and to purchase, albeit at the eleventh hour, enough non-perishable foodstuff to last during any enforced period of restriction to their homes as a result of the passage of the storm.
Further, the state, as part of its constitutional responsibility has established an advisory body of high-powered officials to coordinate the public management of such emergencies. We are thus well organized as a nation to confront any likely danger.
However, in light of the actuality that forecasting the weather is scarcely a precise endeavour, there are likely to be circumstances when, in the interests of public safety, the authorities will be prone to over-caution and to prepare for the worst-case scenario through preventive measures that entail restriction of the freedoms of citizens to act as they might please. Invariably, when the worst case does not eventuate, instead of gratitude, there is no shortage of what those football fans in the US would call “Monday morning quarterbacking”, (and what we might call in these parts “batting from the pavilion) –whereby, with the aid of hindsight, some individuals seek to pillory, to various degrees, both the meteorological forecasts and the official state action that had been taken in good faith with a view to ensuring the public safety.
The extreme state action taken in this context is an island-wide or national shutdown, purportedly regulated by a policy document, impressively titled “Policy Framework and Standard Operating Procedures for the Systematic National Shutdown & Reactivation of Barbados.” It declares itself as formulated to provide for an orderly shutdown and reactivation of the country following a severe weather, tropical storm or hurricane WARNING (sic) issued by the Barbados Meteorological Service after collaboration with the Department of Emergency Management.
In spite of its significance however, the document trusts rather to ethical suasion for the enforcement of its provisions rather than to the rule of law, with the result that some of its provisions may easily be ignored without legal sanction. Indeed, it is by now notorious that some businesses elected to open their establishments on Wednesday last, much to the chagrin of those state officials who bear ultimate formal responsibility for the operation of the national shutdown.
In their defence, the document, perhaps owing to its essentially collaborative nature is not the most happily drafted piece of regulation one will ever encounter. For example, after expressly stipulating that “…On the issue of the National Shutdown Instruction, private sector entities/companies shall close their operation…” taking certain stated matters into account, it then proceeds to catalogue a number of private sector entities “which provide essential emergency services to the general public in times of emergencies” without any further positive or negative provision in that regard.
If it were to be subject to the traditional rules of interpretation, one would be tempted here to apply the principle of construction “inclusio unius est exclusio alterius” –the inclusion of one in a list implies the exclusion of another that might have been included therein, but is not- and to argue accordingly that those entities not mentioned should not open at all during the shutdown, presumably since they do not supply essential emergency services, while those that are listed and do supply such services are entitled to remain open.
A Barbados Advocate editorial on Friday sought to treat some of the thornier employment relation issues that are likely to arise for those workers who are called out to the workplace during a national shutdown. It is further understood that some employers arranged transportation for some of these workers, thereby creating the legal scenario that the employee is to be taken as having begun work from the time he or she boarded the designated vehicle and was therefore immediately owed a duty of care in respect of their health and safety by the employer.
In another section of the press today (Saturday) the general secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union, Ms Toni Moore, accused some businesses of focusing solely on their bottom lime, which, with all respect is, within the limits of the law, the raison d’être of free enterprise.
Thing is, there is no current applicable law in force against what occurred on Wednesday, and while there may be some merit in an assertion that there is no law to govern commonsense and ethical behaviour, law is nevertheless the basis on which our society is governed and may be the only language that some will understand.