OPPOSITION Leader Hon Matthew Wale said another state of public emergency is unnecessary.
Hon Wale highlighted when he opposed the motion in his State of Public Emergency (SOPE) debate speech in Parliament today.
“I have come to the conclusion that emergency powers were never needed at any time since the covid-19 was first reported overseas. In other words, the prior states of emergency approved by the House were unnecessary,” he said.
The Opposition Leader said Parliament has been ill-informed to support the SOPE in the past.
He said there are existing laws that makes adequate provision for an effective covid-19 response both before and during community transmission.
“The potential for government overreach is greater under a state of emergency than under our existing laws. Accountability for and transparency of government decisions and actions are better provided for under existing laws than under emergency powers,” he said.
Hon Wale said there was never a need for SOPEs at all.
He said all regulations to date issued under the Emergency Powers Act could have been issued under existing laws with no gaps.
“The argument made for states of public emergency prior to community transmission of covid-19 was that we do not have provisions in our laws that cater for pre-emptive actions to be taken in the fight to protect our country and population from covid-19 and that our laws only provide for situations where the virus is already in the community,” he said.
The Opposition Leader said that argument is simply wrong.
“The Environmental Health Act and the Quarantine Act together provide adequately for pre-emptive actions to be taken against diseases like covid-19,” he said.
Hon Wale said the Environmental Health Act (EHA) gives the Minister three powers to: (1) make regulations; (2) appoint officers; and (3) delegate administrative responsibilities, and provides a robust platform for dealing with COVID-19 or similar diseases, both before and during a community outbreak.
He said a clear example of this power is the Environmental Health (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) Regulations 2003.
Hon Wale said it is a regulation passed under the EHA to deal with SARS-Corona virus then.
“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,” he said.
The Opposition Leader said the existing framework under the EHA allows for more robust and comprehensive regulations for dealing with COVID-19 throughout the country.
“Its 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.