THERE was never a need for a State of Public Emergency (SOPE).
Opposition Leader Hon Matthew Wale highlighted in his SOPE debate speech in Parliament today.
According to the Opposition leader, the Environmental Health Act (EHA) allows Government to take pre-emptive and reactionary actions against COVID-19 that makes SOPE unnecessary.
He said the EHA grants the Health Minister the powers to make regulations that can be relevant to COVID-19.
Hon Wale said a clear example of this is the Environmental Health (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) Regulations 2003.
“ This was a regulation passed under the EHA to deal with the SARS-Coronavirus back in 2003. There, the Minister under s 11 (1) of the Environmental Health Act, and section 8 (1) of the Public Health Act made regulations specifically targeted at stopping or controlling the spread of the SARS coronavirus into Solomon Islands,” he said.
“This is particularly relevant to the current covid-19 situation and this debate. That regulation was enacted prior to the coronavirus SARS arriving in Solomon Islands. Fortunately, SARS never reached Solomon Islands, and so our response then did not develop further,” Hon Wale said.
The Opposition Leader said the regulations covered measures for preventing the SARS virus from entering through international borders, and measures for controlling it if it entered the country.
“In other words, both are pre-emptive and reactive powers. We were told that existing laws did not provide for pre-emptive powers. However, the 2003 SARS regulations are proof that existing laws adequately provides for both these scenarios. The Environmental Health (severe acute respiratory syndrome) Regulations 2003 makes one thing clear: the Environmental Health Act has already been used to combat Coronavirus before, and ought to be used in the current fight,” he said.
The Opposition Leader questioned as to why the approach was never taken by the Government before.
The Opposition leader also argued that sections 4 (1) & 5 (1) of the Act enabled a more robust nationwide approach to dealing with COVID-19.
He said ‘Section 5 (1) is key to the implementation of the Act in the Provinces.
“Under this section, the Minister can delegate administrative responsibilities to Provincial Governments who can then implement regulations, appoint authorised officers and make further by-laws if required,” he said.
Hon Wale said a valid criticism of the SOPE approach is the disconnect that exists between the oversight committee and the provinces in terms of implementation.
“While there has been much happening in Honiara, the same could not be said for the provinces,” he said.
Hon Wale said the fourth relevant section is PART III of the Environmental Health Regulations.
“Under part III of the regulations, the Minister for Health has specific powers relating to the prevention and suppression of notifiable diseases. Once COVID-19 is included by the Minister of Health, the process under s.7 (1) (a) & (b) of Part III of the EH regulations can be used to deal with community outbreaks. This is relevant as it seems Government process for dealing with the previous COVID-19 community outbreak is what is already in this Act” he said.
The Opposition Leader said the overall existing framework under the EHA allows for more robust and comprehensive regulations for dealing with COVID-19 throughout the country.
“The EHA framework provides for better accountability and transparency compared to the emergency regulations for COVID-19. Further, it contains mechanisms for national implementation of laws as it is better linked to the provincial government system,” Hon Wale told Parliament.
Hon Wale said that it is a fallacy to say that without SOPE, international arrivals could not be legally quarantined or ordered into isolation.
The Opposition Leader’s full speech is available on the Opposition FB page (https://www.facebook.com/parliamentaryopposition).