2 April 2014

Liberia: Senate Proposes State of Emergency

The plenary of the Liberian Senate has proposed a consultative forum with members of the House of Representatives in collaboration with Vice President Joseph Boikai and the Dean of the Cabinet for a state of emergency here in the wake of the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Liberia.

Members of the Liberian Senate said in a motion filed by Maryland County Senior Senator John Ballout on Tuesday in regular session that border points be closely monitored, especially with Guinea and other neighboring countries.

The motion further stated that since the Liberian Legislature is not close with statutory responsibility to declared State of Emergency, it decided to use motion in form of an appeal to the Chief Executive, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to take action.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Liberia has confirmed two cases of the deadly Ebola virus that is suspected to have killed at least 70 people in Guinea. The outbreak of the highly contagious Ebola, which in its more acute phase, causes vomiting, diarrhea and external bleeding, has sent Guinea's neighbors scrambling to contain the disease.

Eleven deaths reported in towns in northern Sierra Leone and Liberia, both sharing borders with south-eastern Guinea where the outbreak was first reported, are suspected to be linked to Ebola. The World Health Organization said that as of March 29, seven clinical samples from adult patients from Foya District in Liberia were tested.

But the motion was countered by Grand Kru County Senator, Dr. Peter Coleman on grounds that the decision would be conventionally condemned. "It will make no sense for us to close our borders because we are part of the global village and this Ebola virus cannot be defeated by this government only. We need both financial and medical support from other countries to help us fight this deadly virus. Closure (of) our borders will signify to the rest of the sub region that we as a country are selfish," said Senator Coleman, also a former minister of health.

But Senator Ballout argued that the proposed State of Emergency is intended to curtail high influx of Ebola victims into Liberia from neighboring Guinea. He noted that failure by the government to take such relevant action, the country's 3.5 million population risk being exposed to the incurable disease.

Briefing the senate prior to the decision, Dr. Coleman, who chairs the Senate's Committee on Health, said Liberia lacks the capacity to protect her citizens from the virus and the country is vulnerable to the exposure of the Ebola virus, something he described as fearful and needs the careful attention of all Liberians.

Article 86 (a) of the Constitution of Liberia says, "The President may, in consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, proclaim and declare and the existence of a state of emergency in the Republic or any part thereof. Acting pursuant thereto, the President may suspend or affect certain rights, freedoms and guarantees contained in this Constitution and exercise such other emergency powers as may be necessary and appropriate to take care of the emergency, subject, however, to the limitations contained in this Chapter. (b) A state of emergency may be declared only where there is a threat or outbreak of war or where there is civil unrest affecting the existence, security or well-being of the Republic amounting to a clear and present danger."

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