State of Emergency extended

Governor General Sir David Vunagi will open parliament today.
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Government has decided to extend the state of public emergency (SOPE), making this the fourth consecutive SOPE.

The third state of emergency ended at 12pm last night.

Acting on advice from the Cabinet, Governor General Sir David Vunagi will issue a declaration today (March 25) which will last seven days, during which parliament will decide on how long this fourth SOPE will be, according to a government media statement yesterday.

“As Parliament is in session, the Declaration by the Governor-General will last for a period of seven days commencing from March 25 during which Parliament will decide on the period of extension, which is usually four months. Parliament will meet again on March 29, 2020 in which a resolution to extend the State of Public Emergency will be passed by Parliament.”

One main reason government uses to justify another SOPE is the public health emergency bill, which it says is still being ‘scrutinised carefully’.

Furthermore, the risks of covid-19 remain around the globe, the threat at our border with PNG still stands, and the covid vaccine is still to be administered to frontliners and border communities.

Another, a rather not much talked about factor, which could also justify another SOPE, is that the vaccine does not automatically give full protection until taken the second time, which is recommended after three months of the first jab.

Regarding the public health bill, government says: “The Government has completed the Public Health Emergency Bill and it is currently now before Parliament. The new Declaration will enable Parliament to carefully scrutinise the Bill and will also allow the Parliamentary process to take its course. Given the procedural requirements of Parliament, it is unlikely that the bill will be passed before the expiration of the current state of public emergency.

“Therefore, to allow Parliament to proceed with the necessary procedural requirements, Cabinet through the Prime Minister has recommended that the Governor General issue a proclamation declaring the existence of a state of public emergency.

“This latest declaration will ensure that all measures currently employed under the SOPE Regulations continue whilst Parliament deliberates on the Public Health Emergency Bill.”

A state of emergency is necessary, government says, to continue controlling movement of people both domestically and international, and imposing quarantine and covid-testing measures.

“The extension is also necessary to preserve public health, safety, order and security during the outbreak of covid-19.

“Covid-19 continues to affect countries and territories around the world. To date, more than 124 million people have contracted the covid-19 virus and more than 2.7 million people dead worldwide.

“This latest declaration will ensure that all measures currently employed under the SOPE Regulations continue whilst Parliament deliberates on the Public Health Emergency Bill.”

Government prior to yesterday’s announcement had kept the issue under wraps by being quiet about it. Hence not much hype compared to previous extension which was met with public skepticism.

Many believed that the real rationale was continued full power to the unpopular prime minister and his cohorts. Criticisms were also levelled at government for being slow in putting the public health bill together and passing it in parliament; many saw it as a ‘buying time’ tactic.

Public reaction to this third extension is yet to be seen.

However, if there is any credit to be given, under the states of emergency government has successfully kept covid-19 at bay behind the walls of quarantine after its attempt to keep Solomon Islands a covid-free country failed in late September last year.

Government has also moved to make Solomon Islands the second country in the Pacific to receive covid-19 vaccine, which it started its vaccination programme yesterday.

Economy-wise, government initiatives including the controversial Economic Stimulus Package are reportedly contributing to making a comeback for our economy.

The first SOPE was declared on March 26, 2020. The first extension on July 29, 2020. The second extension on November 24 last year.