President Lungu ordered to declare State of Emergency as coronavirus wrecks havoc

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CONSTITUTIONAL Lawyer John Sangwa State Counsel has written a letter to President Edgar Lungu asking him to exercise his powers and declare a State of Emergency to combat coronavirus.

In a letter dated 26, March, Sangwa said President Lungu should invoke Article 30 of the Constitution and issue comprehensive regulations on the Coronavirus emergency regulations which must address the movements of people.

Sangwa argued that the measures taken so far were inadequate.

“I am not a medical expert, but common-sense dictates (given the experiences of other countries) that if we are to survive this pandemic the answer lies in your Government taking such measures as may be necessary to contain the number of cases already in the country and halt the introduction of new cases into the country.The measures taken so far are totally inadequate. They do not engender confidence in the people that your Government is in charge of the situation. The solution is for you Mr President to exercise your powers under Article 30 of the Constitution and declare that a State of Public Emergency exists. It is better for us to sacrifice our rights and freedoms now for a period not exceeding three months than to continue to enjoy these rights and freedoms at the cost of the destruction of the very people that are meant to enjoy them in the future,” stated Sangwa who is also a human rights lawyer.

Below is Sangwa’s letter to President Lungu:

Dear Mr President

Declaration of State of Public Emergency to Combat the Corona Virus

Although the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, but the maxim: Salus populi est suprema lex (“The health, welfare, good, salvation, felicity of the people should be the supreme law”), remains true. Given the very desperate state of our economy and healthcare system, the corona virus is a clear and present danger to our very existence as a country. The measures introduced by your Government under the Public Health Act are woefully inadequate to contain the ravages of the virus.

Globally, the knowledge of the virus is constantly being updated and no one knows for certain what the end will be or even how the world and life as we have known it will be once the virus is contained.

It is clear that the rich countries in the north will not help us since they are equally affected by the same pandemic. The primary responsibility of those governments is to their own people. Whilst the international organisations such as the World Bank have offered to help, the presence of the corona virus in Zambia is a Zambian problem, which requires an urgent Zambian solution.

Given the experience of Italy and Spain, one shudders to imagine what the impact of the virus will be in Zambia given our depressed economy and the poor state of our health care system. Whilst the countries of Europe have the infrastructure and financial muscle to survive the pandemic and rebuild their economies as a country, we have nothing comparable.

I am not a medical expert, but common-sense dictates (given the experiences of other countries) that if we are to survive this pandemic the answer lies in your Government taking such measures as may be necessary to contain the number of cases already in the country and halt the introduction of new cases into the country.

The measures taken so far are totally inadequate. They do not engender confidence in the people that your Government is in charge of the situation. The solution is for you Mr President to exercise your powers under Article 30 of the Constitution and declare that a state of public emergency exists

It is better for us to sacrifice our rights and freedoms now for a period not exceeding three months than to continue to enjoy these rights and freedoms at the cost of the destruction of the very people that are meant to enjoy them in the future.

We need clarity and direction in the management of our lives and businesses. The Regulations issued under the Public Health Act do not address these concerns. The traditional laws and institutions cannot adequately deal with the corona virus.

I accordingly ask you to declare a state of public emergency and issue comprehensive regulations (Corona Virus Emergency Regulations) which must address:

(a) movements of people in and out of Zambia;

(b) restrict movement of people within the country;

(c) the rights of the employees and employers in various industries;

(d) the provision of essential services;

(e) the protection of businesses during this period; and

(f) the duties and responsibilities of the financial institutions and the Zambia Revenue Authority during this period.

The piecemeal announcement of measures by your Government to address the situation does not help. Comprehensive regulations are required with regard to all aspects of our lives. Even in the case of public emergency people need clarity from the law as contained in the regulations to plan their lives. The regulations can be developed in consultation with key stakeholders. In the interest of time some of the regulations promulgated pursuant to the provisions of the Emergency Powers Act and the Preservation of Public Security Act, in the past, can be adapted to the current situation.

I know that the mention of the declaration of the state of emergency evokes bad memories of opposition political leaders being detained without trial. These fears can be allayed by limiting the purpose of the regulations to containing the corona virus and its effects. The emergency powers were conceived for such situations. The rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are meaningful only if the very existence of the country and its people are assured.

“THIS IS WORSE THAN BURNING MARKETS”

When asked why, as a human right’s lawyer, he was asking people to surrender their rights, Sangwa said Coronavirus was worse than the burning down of market that necessitated the declaration of a threatened State of public emergency in 2017.

“I know it is a very controversial thing for a Human Rights lawyer to call for a State of Emergency but if this situation is not addressed, people will die. Which is a worse situation, markets burning or Coronavirus? So if you can declare a state of emergency because of the markets burning, why don’t you declare a state of emergency for Coronavirus? Right now, you cannot impose a curfew, you cannot control people’s movements. All these things that they are saying, they are all illegal.”

When reminded that the government had already signed a Statutory Instrument to guide conduct during the period of the Coronavirus outbreak, State Counsel Sangwa said it was not enough.

“It is not enough, have you seen the SI prohibiting church meetings and bars? But in any case, what is the point of doing all those things? Let us do what China: did close all these things. The problem is that you have no medical facilities that can contain the situation at hand. Secondly, what you need is a total lockdown in the country and that can be done within the framework of the law. This is an emergency situation so you need a legal framework for that…because I know what law they are talking about, they are talking about the Public Health Act, now that Act has limitations in terms of what you can do. For example, you can’t impose a curfew in any way under that. You can’t restrict people’s movements,” Sangwa explained.

He said it was not true that a lockdown would put Zambia in a much more vulnerable position economically.

“When you issue those regulations, you can provide exemptions. You only leave the vital services to continue. You can lock down the borders to human movement and leave the flow of goods. The very existence of the country is under threat. Nobody will tell you how this virus will move, we are learning every day. We are learning new things. “For example, when it started, most people believed that you can only transmit it when you show symptoms, [but] now we are told even when you are not showing symptoms, you would actually be transmitting [the virus]. It is therefore necessary to take extreme measures. You cannot have liberty and so forth in this state of complete chaos when people start dying like in Italy. Look at how many people are dying in Italy! Everyday, 800 people are dying and I don’t think we bury that many people in Zambia,” said Sangwa.


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