In welcoming the Provincial Premiers and the Mayor of Honiara City Council to the briefing on ‘Emergency Powers COVID-19 Regulations 2020’ by the Attorney General (AG) and Officers from the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC), the Minister for the Ministry of Provincial Government and Institutional Strengthening (MPGIS), Hon. Rollen Seleso, thanked the Provincial Premiers for availing themselves despite their very busy schedules and the preparations they are making for COVID-19. The Minister was speaking in Mendana Hotel on Wednesday April 22nd where the Premiers, the OPMC, the Police and Permanent Secretaries of various Ministries gathered to discuss COVID-19 and the emergency powers presented by the AG.
“I must thank you all my Hon. Premiers and my good Lord Mayor for availing yourselves in such a very short notice despite your busy schedules. I understand that you have gone through heavy commitment during your Executive and Assembly meetings passing your new budgets for 2020. Availing yourselves to this meeting is a show of commitment to the issues being discussed at the National and Provincial levels. I have assented to all your budgets and look forward to your usual cooperation in implementing your budgets for this new financial year which had already started on 1st April 2020”.
Minister Seleso informed the Hon. Premiers and the Lord Mayor, Officers from the OPMC, AG, COVID-19 Oversight Committee, Senior Officials from the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS), Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF), and MPGIS that the purpose of the meeting was to provide an update, awareness, and guidelines on some of the measures that the National Government is currently undertaking in combating the unprecedented threat posed by this COVID-19 and to discuss how best the Provincial Governments can work collaboratively with the National Government and its agencies in implementing or enforcing these measures.
The Minister stressed, “As you are well aware that the obvious implications of this disease are too much that it really affects all our national operations. We hope that we can work together and share ideas in how we can tackle this together in light of the limited resources we have due to the threat from the virus. All of you are aware of how deadly this virus is. Currently, worldwide, we have 2.5 million cases and 171,000 deaths. We know that the cases and deaths are increasing and, demanding perpetually maintenance of, our preparedness and our steadfast vigilance”.
The Minister informed the meeting that the Governor-General proclaimed the Four Month State of Emergency in late March which will end in July 2020, which may be extended depending on the situation on the ground. To date Solomon Island Islands is still COVID-19 virus-free, he said.
Hon. Rollen Seleso informed the Hon. Premiers and the Lord Mayor that the AG Mr. John Muria (Junior) and Chief of Staff at OPMC Mr. Robson Djokovic are going to clarify to them on various orders limitations and expectations for the joint fight against this deadly COVID-19 monster. The Minister added that other relevant Ministries shall be providing updates and guidance on their side to enable all stakeholders to mount a holistic approach for this fight against the coronavirus, he stated.
In delivering his presentation, the AG, Muria Junior, explained the meaning of State of Public Emergency, the application of its regulations, the powers under the State of Emergency (Powers of the Prime Minister and the Authorised Officers), the declaration of the emergency zones, and the powers under the Provincial Government Act 1997.
On powers of the Provincial Governments AG Muria Junior explained that Provincial Governments can only exercise powers that have been devolved to them pursuant to section 33(1) of the PGA 1997 which states; “The Provincial Executive shall exercise as regards the Province the functions which are functions of the Executive by virtue of any devolution order made under the former Act or any or any under section 26”. The AG stated that these devolved powers do not extend to the prohibition of movement by air or sea vessels, aircraft, and persons, nor does the ACT gives any power to any Provincial Government to curtail the fundamental rights of the people under the Constitution with regards to imposition of curfews or lockdowns.
The AG stressed that there are issues emanating as a result of the declaration of the State of Powers Emergency (SOPE) by the GG that he felt must be addressed immediately. He added that instead of writing to individual Provinces, he opts to bring the Hon. Provincial Premiers together in the united spirit to fight the virus and make the clarifications before them. The issues are pertaining to Closure and Opening of Schools, which under the PGA S33 (3), school is a service that a Provincial Government can provide. However, under the Education Act, only the PS of MEHRD has the authority to provide for the Closure and Opening of schools in Solomon Islands.
Regarding Lockdown or Curfew, as per the Regulations, the AG stressed that such a decision is not a matter for the Provinces but instead the Prime Minister. Only the Prime Minister, he said, can authorize a lockdown in a Province. The Provincial Executive, he emphasized, does not have the legal authority to institute a “total lockdown”. The same applies to Closure of Shipping and Airports. The AG emphasized that as per the Regulations, only the Prime Minister can restrict movements of any vessel or aircraft. Regarding the Closure of Business, the Provincial Executive may suspend or cancel or not renew any business license provided that the Provincial Ordinances are properly canvassed to see if this is possible in an emergency situation.
The convening of the meeting of the Hon. Premiers and the Lord Mayor together with other key stakeholders was necessitated by the risk that Provinces might go on their own way and pass resolutions that are not within their powers and might go against the SOPE.
In the remarks of some of the Premiers who responded to the Minister’s remarks and the presentation by the AG, they stated that they acknowledged the remarks and the presentations and appreciated the timely convening of the meeting. Amongst the issues raised by some of the Premiers are the urgency for the inclusion of the country’s Eastern border as an emergency zone, rise in squatters at Noro, the seemingly expansion of Honiara town boundary to Alligator Creek in the East and Poha in West Honiara, and expectation of a rapid response to any calls for assistance by Honiara City. The AG responded by stating that some issues raised are directly related to the situation now and may be required to be looked into as things transpired while some issues such as squatter are common throughout the country and require new policy guidelines and collective enforcement. As for the extension to Alligator and Poha, the AG stressed that the airport which is located near Alligator Creek is a hot spot and must be within the peripheral of the SOPE or Authorising Officers including areas up to Poha because of their proximity to Honiara and the level of social activities from night clubs such as Kovuare night club.
When this press statement was released the meeting was continuing with the Chief of Staff at OPMC Mr. Robson Djokovic delivering a presentation on Proposed Stimulus Package and State-Owned Enterprise Poly Focus.
– MPGIS Press