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Waiting On COVID-19 Reply From T&T’s Ministry Of Health, Over A-Year-And-A-Half Now

Trinidad and Tobago's Health Minister, Terrence Deyalsingh.

Waiting On COVID-19 Reply From T&T’s Ministry Of Health, Over A-Year-And-A-Half Now

By Dr. Kumar Mahabir
Guest Contributor

Dr Kumar Mahabir - new - smallOn March 12, 2020, the day after the World Health Organization had declared a global pandemic, Trinidad and Tobago recorded its first case of COVID-19. This news was announced by Minister of Health, Terrence Deyalsingh, at a Virtual Media Conference.

Since that first case, more than 118,000 official cases of COVID-19 and over 3,500 deaths have been reported.

The Ministry’s Virtual Media Conference continued daily for some months thereafter, conveying every new development of the scientific and medical communities’ understandings of COVID-19. Strategies were outlined to control its spread through lockdowns and other restrictions deemed necessary to help the nation in its attempts to battle this new pandemic.

The Ministry of Health continues to hold these media conferences to this day, although no longer on a daily basis.

On April 24, 2020, I applied to then-Minister of Communications, Donna Cox, to be included in the pool of journalists participating in the government’s daily COVID-19 virtual conferences.

I am a writer and freelance journalist of 40 years standing, with 12 books published and hundreds of articles published in various print and online newspapers, such as PRIDE: Canada’s Daily African Canadian and Caribbean News Magazine, and indo-caribbean.com. I am also a contributor to, as well as the Editor-in-Chief and publisher at the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre Co. Ltd (an incorporated publishing company registered with the Ministry of Legal Affairs since 2010).

I am also a registered member of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT), a professional association that works on advocacy for Press Freedom, the development of journalism and public debate on matters affecting media workers. MATT is the official representative organisation of all media workers in our twin-island republic.

The above credentials are more than sufficient qualifications to allow me to attend the government’s media conferences in a virtual capacity and to participate in asking questions. My request was made via both email and hardcopy, with the physical letter hand-delivered to the Minister’s office, its receipt signed by the attending security guard at the reception desk.

I had to wait a full 38 days before I received a response from the Minister, only to be informed, by letter, that my application needed to be submitted to the Ministry of Health’s Corporate Communications Unit, which I immediately did.

There, I met another lengthy delay until I had to finally submit a legal request under the Freedom of Information Act (1999) in an effort to compel the Ministry of Health’s Corporate Communications Unit to explain its silence.

“Moreover, the Ministry of Health has broken the law. According to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it is obliged to respond, within 30 days of a FOIA request being submitted.” 

On July 21, 2020, I was fobbed off [put off with a trick] with a letter informing me that my request was “receiving attention” and that communication would be issued to me as “processing of the matter develops”.

The Ministry of Health’s official letter to me (He: 6/2/45 Vol XIII Temp. VIII) was signed by Ms. Sharon Ramadhar, Acting Administrative Officer IV, General Administration Unit, at the Ministry’s Head Office at #63 Park Street, Port of Spain.

Apparently, the matter is not yet sufficiently developed, because I am still waiting a response, one year and seven months now — and counting.

This failure and/or refusal to allow me to attend the Virtual Media Conferences hosted by a Ministry in the government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is unfair, irrational and illegal.

Furthermore, it contravenes and continues to breach my constitutional right under section 4(b) and/or (d) and/or (k) of the Constitution. It is without a doubt that I have been treated unfairly, contrary to the principles of natural justice pursuant to section 20 of the Judicial Review Act Chap. 7.08.

Moreover, the Ministry of Health has broken the law. According to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it is obliged to respond, within 30 days of a FOIA request being submitted. I have drafted a claim for Judicial Review to be considered by my attorneys, Mr. Anand Ramlogan, SC; Ms. Renuka Rambhajan; and Mr. Jared Jagroo, to be instructed by Dr. Che Dindial, to be sent to The High Court of Justice in San Fernando. The Respondent/Intended Defendant would be Ms. Sharon Ramadhar and Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh.

Media conferences, held by the government, should be open to a wide range of journalists, representing all the demographics and interest groups of our multi-ethnic nation. People have doubts, and if fears and misunderstandings are to be mitigated, it is essential that there be open and honest communication from our leaders.

The alternative is that people would turn to questionable sources, and confusion and misinformation would abound. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that the rights of journalists be always upheld for the protection of our nation. Restricting legitimate journalists from access to media conferences is a scandalous and undemocratic behaviour on the part of a government.

Dr. Mahabir is an anthropologist and writer who has published 12 books.

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