Ahead of tomorrow's Parliamentary vote on a six-month State of Emergency, President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the extraordinary measure is critical to combatting the novel coronavirus by providing powers not currently available in the Public Health Act.
Addressing journalists shortly after he attended a General Assembly where all legislators were briefed on the pandemic, Masisi said local public health experts were behind the recommendation for a six-month State of Emergency.
Ahead of the vote, reports have emerged of alleged discomfort within the ruling party’s Parliamentary ranks, while the opposition has expressed scepticism about the motivation for the move. Opposition leaders say the Public Health Act can adequately handle the public interventions required for the pandemic.
Masisi said he had given assurances at the General Assembly on government’s commitment to upholding democracy, adding that the fate of Batswana would lie in the decision to be taken tomorrow.
“At the Assembly, public health experts clearly explained the instruments available to them, essentially the Public Health Act, and the experiences they have had with those instruments to manage this pandemic,’ he said.
‘They explained why they came to a point where they felt strongly and advised that we escalate the response to use an instrument that will enable a higher level of authority.
“They recommended a State of Emergency and they explained the rationale for six months, epidemiologically.”
He continued: “In terms of my obligations to the Constitution, so far we are doing very well and I await the decision of Parliament tomorrow.
“There are two options: they could endorse what my government is asking for or they can reject it and if they reject, we will fall back to the maximum allowed in the Constitution which would be that there’s no state of emergency. We would then revert to the application of the Public Health Act.
“Then we won’t have to wait too long to see the consequences of that.”
Masisi said while under law he had the option of instituting a 21-day State of Emergency without Parliament’s input, then renewing this periodically, he found such an option distasteful.
“If they refuse, they refuse. If Parliament rejects the request, we flip back to the Public Health Act with all its attendant weaknesses and shortcomings.
“One of these shortcomings is the two by-elections we have to hold soon, but the Act does not give any power to the director to postpone elections.
“How do you hold elections under these conditions?
“Some people think we should continue with the Act and continue having this loose arrangement of managing people and the virus.
“When you wake up it will be worse than Italy, Britain, USA,” the President said responding to Mmegi enquiries.
Masisi also brushed aside reports of divisions within his party over tomorrow’s vote, saying
“The mood in the BDP is sombre, serious and laser-focused. We have business to attend to. The mood is dead serious because we are in government and we don’t have the luxury of flipping around and wasting time. We don’t have the luxury of exploring and touring horizons.
“Tomorrow, we will have an open, honest, robust and free debate broadcast live so that Batswana hear what was being said that when the time came to save ourselves or die.
“Everyone will speak from the heart and talk to the promises they made when they said they are going to stand for people.
“My job is straightforward. I’m asking for what I’m asking for. I will present the issue and go to my seat and debate from there.”
The main opposition, meanwhile, says it will request a meeting with Vice President Slumber Tsogwane and/or Masisi ahead of the vote tomorrow. Leader of the Opposition, Dumelang Saleshando said the meeting would seek to find a compromise on the request for a six month State of Emergency.
“We all agree on the danger of this disease and that to defeat it we must decrease travel and stay in our homes,” he said in a briefing after the Assembly.
“We were briefed by the Public Health director that the Act gives him power to institute social distancing, which he did on March 20, 2020 when they reduced the number of people who could gather. “Where we don’t agree is that the ruling party says we should go into a State of Emergency and the President says no one must panic.
“The clause that speaks about a state of emergency is the closest to dictatorship and corruption.
“What would be happening in that six months?
“As MPs we would have taken our powers and given them to him.”
He added: “The Emergency Powers Act would allow the President to change any law, introduce new laws or repeal any laws. What we have not heard is why we are going to this extreme measure? “Mauritius and SA have those state of emergency laws but they have not used them because they don’t want to go to those extreme measures.
“We have not heard why the ruling party says we should go into a State of Emergency where the President will be ruling alone without anyone advising him.”
Mmegi, via the Btv broadcast stream, will carry coverage of the voting tomorrow from 9am.