Since the country’s borders closed on March 22, the exemption policy implemented by the Government for citizens seeking to return has been a controversial and contentious one.
Many nationals abroad have been clamouring to return to Trinidad and Tobago – some for urgent reasons and others who just wanted to be back in the safety of their homeland.
The move by Government to close the borders was understandable, as it sought to mitigate against the spread of COVID-19 and the save the lives of those within the country.
As coronavirus cases began to climb locally and the country was placed on lockdown, exemption requests being granted were hard to come by with good reason.
In an attempt to bring relief to those abroad, the Government sent care packages to students overseas and referred others to embassies or consulates in foreign countries for any assistance required.
However, many nationals have been relating harrowing stories of being stranded abroad with no money, no place to stay and according to them, no response from officials in their homeland to their requests to return.
With news that the Prime Minister’s youngest daughter and now the son of the Attorney General were both granted exemptions into T&T, it has opened up a Pandora’s Box for others who are now questioning how fair the exemption process truly is and why some requests are being granted quicker than others.
In today’s newspaper, both Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and National Security Minister Stuart Young insist the process is fair and explained that it is not one of “first come, first serve” but instead based on a “case by case basis.”
According to Minister Young, close to 10,000 exemptions have been granted and the policy has also been modified to require nationals to submit a PCR test as part of the conditions for the re-entry to T&T.
Be that as it may, it could very well be time for more transparency when it comes to these exemption requests. For the thousands applying for exemptions, it is critical that applicants know the status of their applications at all times and on what grounds their applications have been granted, delayed, or denied at the point in time.
In addition, the need for greater communication is paramount. In too many instances, nationals abroad have complained bitterly about the lack of response from officials to their petitions. It is clear much of the furore surrounding exemptions could be entirely avoided if proper and compassionate communication was in place to deal with the volume of requests and queries, as citizens eagerly seek to return to this country.
It is no longer good enough to quote statistics about applications and approvals. Instead, the time has come for a clear understanding of a process that is impacting the lives of citizens of this country and their loved ones who are longing for their return.