SOPE Extension is Concerning

Peter Kenilorea Junior, MP for East Areare Constituency and member of the opposition group

The extension of the State of Public Emergency (SOPE) for the third time is concerning, says Member of Parliament for East Areare Constituency, Hon. Peter Kenilorea Junior.

MP Kenilorea said the extension is the direct result of the government’s delay of tabling the Public Health Emergency Bill in Parliament this year.

Mr. Kenilorea, a lawyer by profession said the Public Health Emergency Bill should have been a priority for the government.

“It’s very unfortunate that over the last eight months the government hasn’t prioritize this bill. In any country including the Solomons SOPE should be the last resort. We should have put more effort into the bill and make sure the structures are in place that looks after our current situation now and perhaps any situation in the future should COVID-19 get to community transmission.”

He said, the country’s first SOPE was declared earlier this year to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic due to gaps in the country’s legislation in terms of dealing with its impacts, such as mandatory quarantine for people travelling into the country and closing down of the country’s international borders.

“The loopholes in our legislation needs immediate amendments. It doesn’t take much to fix them as we already have quarantine, public health and the environment acts in place.”

Mr. Kenilorea said, while the Prime Minister has the power to hand out administrative, executive and legislative orders, under the SOPE, he is allowed to order for a period of only four months SOPE.

But to extend it for a year as we have now for a democratic country is quite concerning, Honorable Kenilorea said.

“The SOPE gives the prime minister powers once the governor general signs so for us a democratic country the parliament doesn’t deal with certain decision makings anymore and as we see from the regulation the application of the state of emergency, the powers that come under the orders that governor general gives supersedes laws of the country so if it is inconsistent with the laws of the country, those regulations should be the ones you go to so that puts it above our current laws.”

When decisions are made without going through the proper channels for transparency and accountability purposes that is a cause of worry, Hon Kenilorea said.

“Certain powers under the SOPE should be a concern for parliamentarians and legislators as we have regulations done outside of parliament and being brought in to be pretty much gazetted without coming through parliament. In this case, the people don’t have a say in what these laws are and that is something as a parliamentarian and legislator I am concerned about.”

In acknowledging the government’s tireless effort in dealing with the covid-19 pandemic, Opposition leader Mathew Wale also called on the government to must have the Public Health Emergency Bill put before parliament before the current SOE ends.

“One would say that we’ve practically begged the government to have the public health emergency bill before us so it could be debated and passed as of now the government does not have an excuse in asking another extension of the SOPE when the current one ends,” Hon Wale said.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said, the bill was deferred earlier due to timing and resource constraints adding that the deferment is to allow the government to carefully make appropriate inputs before it is tabled in parliament.

by Sharon Nanau

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