24 April 2020

Transparency Solomon Islands supports the measures put in place to keep COVID 19 from entering the country. For this to be successful everyone coming into the country for whatever reason and in whatever mode be it plane or ship, boat, big or small, the law must be applied and complied by all.

If in anyone’s view the emergency powers regulations were not applied fairly or across the board, we and our social capital, the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the country must raise our concern on the perceived risks associated with non-compliance, and non-application of the quarantine rules to all to keep COVID 19 out.  Not only that but the consequences of non-compliance or failing to apply the law to all, as seen from our perspective. We do not have to be an expert before we raise these issues.  But to raise an informed concern, transparency is needed from the Executive Government on the interpretation of the Emergency Powers Regulations. The right body to direct our concern to is the Executive Government, currently led by DCGA, the Public Service, and Provincial Governments.

The Executive Government is the Arm of the Government that is responsible for the day to day running of the country’s affair on our behalf, either in media or directly to it without fear or favor. 

The need for all to be on the same page regarding the interpretation of Emergency Powers Regulation is extremely important, more so for our very hard-working frontline workers manning our entry point. This will help them not to be influenced by any other interpretations of the provisions in the Emergency Powers Regulations. In this regard, Transparency Solomon Islands commends BINTAN for its support for the Emergency Measures that our government has put in place in order to keep COVID 19 out of Solomon Islands.  Transparency Solomon Islands urges you and other vessels to comply with these regulations to the letter.

Having said so the importance of being on the same page with regard to the interpretation of the Emergency Powers Regulation. Regulation 7 of Part 2 of the Emergency Regulations covers the mandatory quarantine on entry to Solomon Islands. Regulation 7(1) says a person arriving in Solomon must be quarantined at a quarantine station[could be a vessel] for 14 days (the quarantine period) commencing from the date of the person’s arrival and 7(2) of the same covers those that our Prime Minister may exempt by Order. 

Two of the first orders made by the Prime Minister’s relevant to these issues he made and to prohibit entry of non-citizens into the Solomon Islands and an order to ban pleasure vessels entering Solomon Islands. Since then he has made an order to ban vessels and or any small crafts entering our border in the Western Province. Seeing what we now have witnessed, Transparency Solomon Islands urges the Prime Minister to consider another order to ban logging vessels,  yachts vessels going into the rural area without undergoing the 14 days quarantine.  Furthermore, he should allow provincial premiers to also come up with their own measures such as crews not going out of the vessel whilst in the provinces loading etc. and any other deemed appropriate. Transparency Solomon Islands is unaware of any other orders under this provision that might have been made under this provision with regard to logs and mineral ore carrying vessels.

Again Transparency Solomon Islands re-iterates that 14days quarantine upon entry to the Solomon Islands means just that.  It does not mean 14 days traveling to Solomon Islands. If there is any other interpretations of this provision, then the public needs to be informed.

It is important that the Attorney General explains this to all inbound arrivals be it via, cargo vessels, aircraft commercial fishing vessels, commercial recreation cruise liner, pleasure craft, supper yacht, bunkering, carrying or taking out ore or fuel, logging, and any other commercial or scientific purpose. This week a boat that was barred from entry is now alleged to be loading logs at Aola a rural location within East Guadalcanal.  It is this type of conduct that threatens to weaken the measures currently in place to keep us safe. 

Why one may ask is Transparency Solomon Islands so concerned and determined that the government does all it can to keep COVID 19 out. 

According to briefing or update was given by Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr. Alex Chaudhuri of Brisbane, Australia, children do not play any major role in the transmission of Covid 19.  Regardless of should not be discouraged from practicing hygiene. When one encounters any infection, it generates an antibody response to counteract the infection, however, not everyone generates an antibody response. The specialists are not sure why even the healthiest can become very sick with COVID 19, and that there have been increased cases of COVID 19 below 40 years old age group and lives have been lost. Even if a healthy individual mounts a strong immune response specialist currently not know how long that immune response lasts for nor how effective it is.  There are still many unknowns and ambiguities about COVID 19. A positive test tells the presence of a viable virus, and with a positive test indicating a viable virus, the question is, is it effective. In this situation, the positive case must remain in isolation and be monitored until the patient’s swab test produces a negative result, they can then be de-isolated into the community.  However, we can work around what is currently known about this virus to prevent spread. Social/physical distancing and other public health and hygiene measures that we currently have in place to stop the virus getting in are a MUST, in preventing transmission, stopping this virus from spreading, and most importantly entering the country. It has only been months since this virus is encountered by the world, there are somethings that these specialists know but there are still many unknowns. Given this expert update by specialist doctors, saving the lives of Solomon Islanders, our way of life culture and tradition rests on us keeping the virus out and buying time for the scientific community to find a cure or treatment. This is something that is within our power to control so let us do it and apply it to all.

Yes, economy is important but so are the lives of the majority of our people in the rural areas who in most cases do not enjoy the benefits of the economy much.  Solomon Islands is blessed that our people are self-sustaining and looking after themselves, feeding themselves etc. a consideration that must go into any plans beyond COVID 19.   The economy can be revived but lives of families, communities and and people once gone cannot be revived.  We need to keep ourselves alive to revive the economy.