EDITORIAL - The public has a right to know
Over the last few months this country has seen several pieces of important legislation passed by both Houses of Parliament; legislation that has the potential to change how we do business and go about our daily lives.
Among those laws have been the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Act which was passed last October; the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act which was passed in November and the Police (Amendment) Act which was passed less than two months ago. All three of those have provisions outlined within them that the public in general would be wise to get familiar with, as ignorance of the law is no excuse. But, while that may be true, it is also our belief that with the passage and subsequent proclamation of any piece of legislation, the relevant authorities have a responsibility to ensure that awareness and sensitisation programmes are put in place to help educate the public.
Since the proclamation of the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill, an official in the Labour Office has gone on record indicating that it was proclaimed, and outlining some of the provisions within the law that have to met and by when. But we were somewhat disappointed that that revelation in fact came a month after the legislation was actually proclaimed. Now with each employer mandated to have a clear written policy statement against sexual harassment within the workplace prepared and presented to each employee within six months of the commencement of the Act, unless the Labour Department had physically called and told each employer that the Act had been proclaimed in December, when they found out in January, it meant they only had five months to comply. But that’s for the ones who actually saw or heard the news report; what about those who did not?
One could argue also that the authorities perhaps dropped the ball to some extent with the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act. Not until February 21 when messages started to circulate on social media that the Act was proclaimed and in fact being enforced, starting with the ban on cellphone use while driving, did the public know. Admittedly, during the various
traffic reports from the police that morning on the radio stations, it was stated that cellphone use while driving was an offence, but again we raise a question – how many people listen to the traffic reports?
Also, the public remains unaware of what other aspects of the legislation are being enforced at this time. We make the point as certainly there has not been any word given about the acquisition of breathalysers to date. Indeed, we believe that as this new law is rolled out, that the onus is on the Ministry of Transport and Works to ensure that there is a vigorous awareness campaign instituted as a matter of urgency. While not doing so could be profitable for the State, the legislation was introduced to promote road safety and we strongly
believe that not to educate the public would be an injustice.
It is on that note that we turn our attention to the amended Police Act. When it was introduced to Parliament, it was said the aim was to allow the police to better respond to violent crime in this country, but many have argued that the Act will trample on the constitutional rights of Barbadians and create a police state. It is unclear whether that Act has been proclaimed, but we hope that when it is, that the authorities do a better job than they have to date letting the public know, and ensuring persons also know the dos and don’ts set out in the legislation. To do any less, we fear, could result in the police losing the trust of the people.