by Claudette Joseph
I have listened to the comments made by the Prime Minister in his interview last Wednesday with GBN, particularly his declaration that his government will be “going to Parliament with a permanent state of emergency”.
A permanent state of emergency is not possible under our Supreme Law — the Constitution. As the longest serving Member of Parliament, by now the Prime Minister must know that the Constitution, not he, is the supreme law of the land.
I have also had a preliminary perusal of the Coronavirus Disease Covid-19 Control Bill which seeks to extend the emergency powers for a year in the first instance. This is the bill the Prime Minister was referring to when he spoke of the permanent state of emergency. Never mind the bill itself says it is only for a year. If passed, it can easily be made ‘permanent’ by parliament extending its life.
This is yet another manifestation of the dictator in action, enabled by the yes people around him; and emboldened by the complete control he has of the Parliament.
The bill is unconstitutional and unnecessary.
The Constitution at Section 17 sets up the manner in which a state of emergency may be declared, managed and maintained. Anything done outside that, is unlawful. Therefore, it is unconstitutional for parliament to attempt to circumvent (get around) section 17 of the Constitution by passing this law. It does not matter that the bill is not called an emergency powers act, the intent is clear. A pig by any other name is still a pig.
A state of emergency is the same as the imposition of martial law. This is reserved for periods of severe national crisis and unrest. When martial law is imposed, many of our fundamental rights and freedoms are put on hold. That is why the Constitution is very limited and restrictive in how a state of emergency is to be imposed and maintained. Above all things, the role of the Constitution is to protect the private citizen from abuses by the state. Objectively, even in this Covid-19 pandemic, we do not have the conditions that justify a state of emergency at all, far less, an unlawful and lengthy one.
The Public Health Act makes provision for how we are to conduct ourselves if there is an outbreak of an infectious disease. If the authorities feel we need to make special provisions to guard against Covid-19, amendments can be made to that law, of course, within the confines of the constitution.
We have been repeatedly declared Covid-19 free. What we need now to do is to continue to monitor and manage our situation, especially our borders, so that we remain Covid-19 free. We certainly don’t need martial law to do that. Indeed, we should be relaxing the existing regulations and focusing on our borders, so that we do not re-introduce the disease in our country. Internally, government and all of us should continue to participate in public education to get our people to keep wearing masks once outside our homes, physical distancing and avoiding crowded places. There is absolutely no need for this unconstitutional, draconian law in order to keep us Covid-19 free. It therefore begs the question, is there a more sinister motive behind this law?
I encourage you all to join the picket of our parliament on Wednesday morning. The constitution is the last and only barrier standing between total dictatorship and we the people. Don’t let the dictator breach that barrier!
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