Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 March 2020:
Parliament of Sierra Leone today continued its adjourned debate on the State of Public Emergency, announced two days ago by president Julius Maada Bio to provide the necessary legal support for the range of tough measures that are now in place to curb the onset of the virus in the country (Photo above: Dr Kandeh Yumkella MP). After much cross-party debate the motion to approve the president’s proclamation was unanimously passed.
Speaker of Parliament, Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu confirmed that “in light of the unanimity of the House, the motion on the proclamation of a State of Emergency by President Bio has been unanimously carried”.
According to report by Parliament’s Department of Public Relations, the Deputy Leader of Government Business – Sahr M. Nyuma MP, thanked President Bio for putting the nation first in the fight against covid-19 by proclaiming a State of Emergency in the best interest of the people of Sierra Leone.
Nyuma said that, according to WHO “there is no cure or vaccine for covid-19”. He described the president’s proclamation as the right step in the right direction, as he recalled measures taken by former president Koroma including the declaration of a State of Emergency to fight and combat Ebola in 2014.
He also said that, besides the range of stimulus package announced by several developed countries, thousands of people have died as a result of the coronavirus in those countries.
Hassan Sesay MP for the APC party, said that as an opposition party, their primary interest lies in the survival of the people of Sierra Leone. He said that the declaration of state of public emergency is a necessary measure taken by President Bio to fight covid-19.
He called for the regulations giving effect to the state of public emergency to be brought to parliament within 10 days for approval. “We are in support of the state of public emergency and hope it will be purposefully used for public health reasons only,” he said,
Segepoh Solomon Thomas MP – the Deputy Speaker of Parliament said that the country is in imminent danger of contracting “a virus which nobody knows anything about”, describing it as “a strange enemy in the history of mankind”.
Recalling how former president Koroma was late in declaring a state of public emergency to fight Ebola, Segepoh Solomon Thomas commended president Bio for being proactive in taking preventive measures against covid-19.
He assured parliament that the state of public emergency will not be used as it was during the dark days of the country’s history.
He said that “the opposition has no intention to go against the proposition of President Bio”. He emphasized that “nothing out of the ordinary will be done to anyone as a result” of the state of public emergency.
Dr. Kandeh Yumkella MP and leader of the NGC recalled how parliament had questioned Ministers about the country’s preparedness for covid-19. He said that MPs have helped the President to declare a state of public emergency, after the debates in the House, focussing on prevention and containment of covid-19.
Yumkella spoke about the need for continued dialogue and consultations in the House. He said that the opposition have no intention to stand in the way of the President. “It is the discretion of the President to declare a state of public emergency subject to the approval of Parliament,” he said.
Speaking about respect for human rights, he cited Section 29 (10) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone in the context of the regulations that are to give effects to the state of public emergency, subject to parliamentary review or amendment after every three months.
Dr Yumkella noted that the state of public emergency would last for one year. He added that the fears earlier expressed by the opposition would hopefully be allayed, once MPs have had sight of and are able to discuss those regulations coming to Parliament for approval in the next 10 days.
He advised the government to cajole, consult and avoid the use of threats to get its two thirds votes in parliament. This is Yumkella speaking in parliament:
Saa Emerson Lamina MP and Leader of C4C, said that Sierra Leone is the only country in West Africa without a confirmed case of covid19, as he spoke about the devastating impacts of the virus across the world.
He commended President Bio for taking the fight to covid-19, rather than the reverse; adding “we cannot wait to be caught pants down as it was with Ebola”. He also called for the observance of social distancing and avoidance of public gatherings across the country.
Leader of the Opposition – Chernor R.M Bah MP, praised the position expressed by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament about the state of public emergency. He said the regulations will be subject to review after a period of 90 days. But he said, “the Opposition is not afraid of threats”.
He assured that “the APC is not averse to the state of public emergency declared by President Bio to fight covid-19”; and that they will support the regulations to give effects to the State of Emergency. He also said that the “state of public emergency has effect within seven days until it is superseded by a resolution of Parliament for its continuation or termination”.
Calling for effective public education, he said “the opposition is in sympathy with the people whose votes are needed in 2023 to vote the SLPP out of power”.
He praised president Bio for replying to his letter by suspending the activity of the NCRA until further notice; and called on security personnel to use a human face during the course of implementing the measures that have been put in place by the Government to fight covid-19.
The Leader of Government Business Sidie M. Tunis MP, thanked the MPs for their brilliant contributions during the debate. He referred to President Bio as “a listening President”, for replying to the letter sent by the Leader of the Opposition.
Clarifying, he said President Bio has excessive powers as Supreme Executive Authority. But he said that president Bio would only use the state of public emergency to prevent and fight covid-19 and nothing more.
Addressing critics who are trying to link the state of public emergency with the Commission of Inquiry report, he said that “the declaration of the state of public emergency is only a coincidence and has nothing to do with the conclusion of the Commissions of Inquiry”.
He said the state of public emergency would last for 12 months, subject to the approval of parliament; adding that the regulations will give effect to the state of public emergency.
Promising to engage the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, he said that the proclamation of state of public emergency “is not a license for harassment”, and spoke about the need for aggressive public education on covid-19.
Why did the opposition Support the SOE? Listen to a Joint Press Conference by Hon Dr Yumkella, Hon. Sidi Tunis, Hon. Chernoh Bah and Hon. Saa Emerson Lamina: