Parliament has passed the motion to approve the continuation of the State of Public Emergency by a further four months.
The Governor General, His Excellency, Sir David Vunagi had earlier proclaimed that a state of public emergency exists in Solomon Islands.
In exercise of the powers conferred by section 16(2) of the Constitution, the Governor General, His Excellency, Sir David Vunagi by a Proclamation declare that on and from 24 November 2020 a state of public emergency exists in Solomon Islands.
The motion was therefore the third Parliament business in yesterday’s order paper.
Wrapping up the debate on the motion, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare emphasized, the proclamation is necessary to ensure that COVID-19 is not transmitted from person to person within Solomon Islands (including by controlling the entry of persons into Solomon Islands and requiring the quarantining and testing of persons).
Prime Minister Sogavare further stressed, it is necessary to preserve public health, safety, order and security during the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the Solomon Islands/Papua New Guinea border, the Prime Minister said, PNG has lifted its State of Public Emergency. This means, earlier restrictions with regards to their Border closure is no longer in place.
Consequently, Solomon Islands now bears the ultimate responsibility of ensuring that there are no crossing over from Bougainville. This is quite difficult given the traditional claims of ownership of islands situated between SI and Bougainville, he said.
Prime Minister Sogavare however, applauds the outstanding work of our dedicated and committed RSIPF officers at the Border who give it their all for their country in ensuring that the Crossings are kept at bay.
The Prime Minister explains, the statement by the Leader of Opposition shows that there are more characteristics of COVID-19 that is yet to be discovered. Its presence in faces or in frozen food shows the need for quick adaptation to a rapid changing situation.
Prime Minister Sogavare further referred to the Leader of Opposition’s comments that the Government had 8 months to develop a Bill only shows the lack of understanding of the processes that is involved in the development of a very important bill.
On the Public Emergency Health Bill, he expressed, the first four months was very critical for Solomon Islands in terms of ensuring that COVID-19 is not imported into Solomon Islands. At that time, we did not have sufficient or had lack of adequate knowledge of the disease.
All our experts (both health, finance, legal) were on leave. These experts were only allowed back into the Country towards the end of the first State of Public Emergency.
Work on the Public Health Emergency Bill commenced during the end of the first SOPE and by end of August the Officials commenced consultations on the first draft in Honiara with Government stakeholders.
This was followed by a second consultation in the Western Province in September and a third one in Malaita Province.
Consultations were also scheduled for other provinces to be held in October and also with the Private Sector and other relevant stakeholders, the Prime Minister said.
However, on 3rd October we recorded our first COVID-19 and our hardworking officials were diverted to ensure the containment of COVID-19 in Quarantine Stations.
To continue to require these officials to pursue the Bill at the same time ensure the containment, is suicide and is not in the best interest of National Security adding, a rushed bill will not serve our purpose.
He further said, our Officials must be respected and not over worked. They are the only thing that stand between the Quarantine Stations and community transmission.
However, the Prime Minister assured the House, the Oversight Committee, MHMS and the Attorney-General’s Chambers are committed to delivering the Public Health Emergency Bill.
“We will not compromise quality over the need to merely have a stand alone law. This is irresponsible of Government and of us legislators,” he strongly pointed out.
Prime Minister Sogavare further said, the Bill is not only designed to address COVID-19 but other diseases that are categorised as “public health events of concern” or can cause outbreaks or are contagious. So rushing such important and critical legislation is not in the National Interest.
“The Government will not be responsible for a law that is half baked”, the Prime Minister said firmly.
On non-compliance of Orders, the Prime Minister assure the House, breaches of Orders have been compiled and forwarded to the relevant authorities. These Authorities are bound by relevant legislation. The Government does NOT unilaterally assume the role of judges. This clearly demarcates that the separation of powers are intact. Persons who are aggrieved that their rights have been infringed can apply to the Courts without any fear.
The acquittal and conviction of offenders shows our Courts are functioning without any interference, he stressed.