Salone News

Sierra Leone: Facts and myths about State of Emergency

25 March 2020 at 19:54 | 1682 views

Commentary

By Sorie Sengbe Marrah

The President has the LEGAL AUTHORITY AND POWER under our nation’s Constitution to declare a State of Emergency for the sake of public health and safety amongst others. The global Coronavirus pandemic does pose a serious threat to our nation despite the fact that no case has yet been recorded. The fact is that the President is also empowered to declare a state of public emergency in the case of an imminent danger to public health and safety.

It is not true that such declaration is an entirely executive act and parliament is not involved at all. The Constitution gives the President the power to declare a state of emergency but such a proclamation must be submitted to Parliament for ratification. Any proclamation of a state of emergency by the president would lapse after seven days (when Parliament is in session) or 21 (when parliament is not in session) unless ratified by two-thirds of the membership of parliament.

It is true that during a state of emergency the President may make rules and regulations or adopt measures which might interfere with the human rights of the people. It is true that those rules, however draconian or harsh they may seem, are generally speaking lawful and enforceable.

It is not true that the President can exercise any sort of executive power in a state of emergency. The Constitution provides that all rules made or measures taken by the President must be NECESSARY AND EXPEDIENT for the purposes of the emergency. For instance, the President cannot just order that citizens are prohibited from consuming any food in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus, unless there is medical expert advice that starvation can aid in breaking the chain of infection.

It is true that during a state of emergency, regulations or measures adopted can get citizens detained (like compulsory lockdown), their movements curtailed (like isolation or quarantine measures) or their properties seized (confiscation and deprivation orders) or their homes searched (forceful entry measures) for longer than the normal periods prescribed in the Constitution.

It is not true that the President can make or adopt rules or regulations for a state of emergency without recourse to parliament. All rules and regulations applicable during a state of public emergency must be adopted by parliament before they would have the binding force of law.

It is true that the President can make rules and adopt measures which may be inconsistent with any law and such conflicting provisions in those laws will cease to be in effect until the lapse of the emergency rules or measures.
It is not true that the president can declare a state of emergency for an indefinite period of time. The Constitution empowers the President to make the proclamation but only Parliament can determine the length of the emergency period which should not be more than 12 months in the first instance, though extendible.
It is true that the executive (the President and members of Cabinet) and the institutions exercising executive power (the Police and Army) wield enormous powers during a state of emergency.

It is not true that a state of emergency creates a conducive environment for dictatorship and tyranny. The Constitution does provide for checks and balances amongst the three handles of government and circumscribes executive powers during a state of public emergency in order to curtail any temptation for manipulation of such powers for political gains.

Photo: State House, Freetown, Sierra Leone

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