Thursday, December 14, 2017

Deal with passport emergency

Express editorial logo450

Mark Fraser

In sharp contrast to the lightning speed with which the Government, ably supported by the Opposition, managed to vote themselves a whopping increase in pensions in the Lower House, its response to the collapse of service at the passport office remains painfully slow.

It is incredible that this situation, which is causing so much distress among citizens, is being allowed to continue unresolved for so long.

While the brunt of public anger is falling on the Public Services Associationís decision to instruct its members to leave the workplace due to occupational safety concerns, the more immediately relevant issue is why is it taking so long for the safety issues identified to be addressed? Surely, the nature and scale of this problem justifies fast-tracking in the public interest.

As distracted as he might be with battling crime and planning the future of LifeSport, line minister Gary Griffith must find the time to tackle this problem and prioritise the restoration of full passport services. Through no fault of their own, too many innocent citizens, from all walks of life and corners of the country, are being made to suffer from the extended closure of the Port of Spain Immigration office which processes all passports, as well as the San Fernando office. The situation is especially desperate for the many who would have made plans to travel abroad in this holiday season and for students who need their passports to keep visa appointments at the various embassies. What the public needs to hear now from Minister Griffith is a clear plan and date for getting these services back on stream. Logic would suggest that the longer this crisis is allowed to continue, the greater will be the problem of backlog with the potential for continuing public inconvenience well into the future.

Beyond the passport issue is the larger matter of the governmentís compliance with OSH requirements. As provider of critical services to the public, the government must urgently evaluate conditions at all premises occupied by public servants.

Although the PSAís actions are causing major inconvenience to the public, the reality is that OSH regulations exist to protect both workers and members of the public against injury and illness due to unsafe workplace conditions. With PSA President Watson Duke now on a mission to seek protection under the Act, the government should move expeditiously to audit OSH conditions at all offices in order to pre-empt further protest action. In cases where such offices are in rented property, landlords who have failed to maintain their buildings to OSH standards should be made to feel the full brunt of a zero tolerance response by the State.

In State-owned buildings, property managers must also be read the riot act. The public must not be made to pay for the failures of building owners and managers to operate by the law. The government, above all, should respect the requirements of the Occupational and Safety Hazards Act and set the example for the rest of the society to follow.