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March 31, 2020

By: Winstanley.R.Bankole.Johnson

I believe citizens have always viewed our Parliament as an assemblage of enlightened minds where the ideals of nationalism and patriotism should be upheld by the Honourable members and cross party tensions assuaged. But from general interviews undertaken by yours truly, many minds were challenged by that encounter between the Attorney General (AG) Dr. Priscilla Schwartz and our Parliamentarians as she tabled the 2020 State of Emergency Bill. What actually transpired during that debate left many like myself wondering whether in fact that exercise like a few others in the past was necessary. This is because it would appear our welfare was trivialized and the outcome beggars belief.


That constitutionally the President can declare a State of Emergency whenever he considers it to be in the interest of the safety and security of us the people he swore under oath to and defend is unquestionable. And that he did in good faith. But at the time of tabling the Bill for parliamentary enactment into law, a material alteration to the original gazette instrument to wit: omission of the word “Health” was observed and rightly challenged by the Hon. Manley-Spaine.  Without deference to the Rt. Hon. Speaker – the de-facto Chairman of sessions – the AG countered the Hon. Manley-Spaine by asserting inter-alia that she wasn’t aware of how the word “Health” had mysteriously appeared in the actual original gazette instrument but in the materiality of the situation, what the honourable members ought to be focusing on was the paper as presented by herself before them which was for a State of Emergency (and not a State of Public Health Emergency).


And astonishingly as if mesmerized by the scintillating presentation of the learned AG, that was that as the Rt. Hon. Speaker and entire House did just as directed by the AG: focus on the paper as presented. But there are a few agonizing facts emerging as at that juncture:

  • Since the AG had in her own words accepted that she didn’t know how the word “Health” got mysteriously inserted in the original gazette instrument, shouldn’t parliament have stood her down or adjourned till a clarification was obtained on “who dunnit”? That I respectfully submit was a material omission and insofar as it impacted on our welfare, it was an issue that ought to have been thoroughly resolved and clarified even if it meant Parliament sending the AG back to do so and also to have the fresh Bill properly gazetted.
  • If what the AG rather asked the Hon MPs to focus on – without the word “Health” – was not actually what was in the original gazette instrument, did it not mean therefore that the Bill which as tabled and passed into Law on that day was irregular given that it did not pass the 21 days public gazette scrutiny requirement?
  • Some Parliamentarians were of the opinion that the Bill “…….lacked well defined paragraphs and (was) deficient in rules and regulations”. Could one be right then to say that the Bill was rushed through Parliament, given it did not reflect the rules governing the emergency proclamation, which the AG was asked to define and present to Parliament within two weeks?

After the AG’s submissions and until its enactment (as was reported and which I keenly followed through the airwaves) the entire debate in my view went completely off tangent. Whilst one Hon. MP was concerned about the timeline of one year as too long, the main opposition leader Hon. Chernor Bah expressed subtle apprehensions of the possibility that the process might (as usual) be politically abused by overzealous government agents against active opposition elements under a State of Emergency.

Although both submissions had merit, neither sustained the Hon. Manley-Spaine’s earlier concern about a variation between the original gazette instrument and that which the AG was tabling, nor did any other MP raise it up again. The AG had her sway and way, and of course the “Ayes!!” had it”. Further whereas regarding concerns of the Hon. about the timeline an opportunity exists under Sec.29 (10) for periodic 90-day reviews if or when situation improves, the apprehensions of the Hon. Chernor Bah should not be downplayed, particularly when you consider that-:

  • Immediately a State of Emergency is proclaimed by a President the Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms of the Individual (Chapter 3 Sec. 29 of the 1991 Constitution) becomes automatically subsumed and for which no matter how they are applied by government agents (more particularly Sec.29 (6) (a), (c) and (g) the President cannot be inquired into even after his tenure ends.
  • Rumours about the possibility of lynch-mobbing citizens for expressing their legitimate political opinions are rife.

So notwithstanding his assurances as Leader of Government business to ensure that the rights of citizens are not abused during the State of Emergency, the Hon. Sidi Mohamed Tunis cannot be held to account because that assurance was neither voted upon nor is not binding in law.  Worse still in that same assurance to members of parliament and the public at large that the proclamation of this State of Emergency is no license for harassment by Police or the Military lies the possibility for exactly such to happen.

Meantime whether or not the rules governing present State of Emergency are defined by the AG as directed by Parliament, citizens are urged to consider the declaration as in our best interest and to endeavor to comply with periodic directives from the government.

Meantime in a rather bizarre twist and attendant upon the enactment of the State of Emergency Law is that until it expires or we successfully prevent and contain the Corona virus threat (whichever is earlier), the proposed amendments to or repeal of Part 5 of the Public Order Act of 1965 is consigned into abeyance.

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