Sierra Leone: Opposition Lawmakers Urge Suspension of Civil Registration

In the wake of government's moratorium on public gathering to prevent any outbreak of the COVID-19, opposition Members of Parliament have demanded the suspension of the national civil registration process scheduled to commence on March 24th by the National Civil Authority (NRCA).

Last Friday, there were exchanges of words between opposition and ruling party lawmakers when the former suggested that the NCRA should postpone the registration process as government has already banned public gathering.

Government has put in place several measures including the prohibition of religious activities and marriages, closure of schools and suspension of gathering of more than 100 people, and shutting down of airport, but the country is yet to record a single case of the COVID-19.

Leader of the opposition All People's Congress (APC), Hon. Chernor R. M Bah, argued that since government has banned large gathering in churches and mosques, public transports, restriction on flight schedule, and postponement of public exams, among others, there is need to also suspend the civil registration process.

"We are not against the registration process. Our position as a party still stands. We are thinking of the safety and security of our people. In the last two days, we have been discussing health issues here and today again we have continued the process. The Speaker has asked the leadership of all political parties here to form a committee that will liaise with Ministries, Departments and Agencies and also for the government to institute Public Health Emergency," he said.

He added that Parliament has also ceased doing biometric registration till further notice.

"We are still ready to support the government to fight the virus. We need to be honest with ourselves. It has nothing to do with politics. We don't have anything in mind, but to support government. Whatever trend the president takes, we will support him, considering the people that are in the province that lack education on the virus and even those in Freetown," he said.

The opposition leader also called on government to divert the funds that will be used for the civil registration to the health sector.

Also, Hon. Dr. Kandeh K. Yumkella, Leader of the National Grand Coalition (NGC) called on the NCRA to postpone the civil registration for at least 30 days.

"What is the problem for the NCRA to put on hold the civil registration for at least 30 days. But if things get better before hands then they can go ahead. I see no reason why this should be an issue. We are appealing that if Parliament can make such recommendation, I believe the President can agree," he said.

However, Leader of Government Business, Hon. Sidie M. Tunis, said Parliament cannot be part of the decision to put on hold NCRA's activity, but promised that they will meet with the Executive/President to discuss the issue.

"It is a clear manifestation that for the past four weeks, the APC has been criticizing the government on the illegality of the work of NCRA. I assure you all that if the operation of the NCRA has any effect on the Coronavirus, government will stop it. If we are advocating for the Public Health emergency, let us do so and not otherwise. If we close our eyes from the registration process, we see no need to advising the President invoke a State of Public Health Emergency," he said.

For Hon. Lahai Marah of the APC, he questioned the preparedness of the police in manning the quarantine homes, stating that videos have been making rounds on the social media of how people escaped from holding centres.

Hon. Alpha Fode Jabbie of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) suggested that medical personnel be deployed at all correctional centres for early preparedness as it is probable for them to be affected by the virus.

He added that slum communities like Kroo Bay, Guard Street and Mabela are key areas that must be provided with medical personnel and hand washing materials.

Hon. Kathrine Zainab Tarawally was concerned about the Le1 billion that the Finance Ministry would be disbursing weekly to the Ministry of Health, thus noting that the Ministry of Finance failed to explain thoroughly as to how those funds were to be dished out to respective stakeholders that are responsible for the preparedness of the deadly pandemic.

She added that she was reliably informed that food and electricity were the major challenges of those that have been quarantined, thus noting that food prepared outside the quarantine homes are 'poor and tasteless'.

"The hotel that is used as quarantine home is not catering food for the people. So, what is the Le142m, which is said to be used for quarantine purposes, is used for. I see no need for such funds. The food is poor and that's why the people are not eating it. The supply of toiletries is not available as expected. Where is the one billion going to in terms of preventive measures we are talking about? Make sure to include MPs, councilors, and Paramount Chiefs in the process," she submitted.

In his response, Deputy Ministry of Internal Affairs, Lahai Lawrence Leema, advised the President to invoke Section 29 of the Constitution for Public Health Emergency on the basis that neighboring countries have had it and WHO has declared the disease as a pandemic.

"If I am asked to advise the president, I will ask him to consider the invocation of Section 29 as the disease is a global test and it affecting the movement of people around the world. The disease poses threat to all of us and that is why we should consider these questions. But do we have laws that give the right to take preventive measure as a country," he said.

He said invoking the said section will give government the upper hand to design rules and working plan, to set up taskforce since different institutions have already set up framework that would contribute in combating any outbreak.

Speaker of Parliament, Dr. Abass C. Bundu assures that Parliament stands ready and willing to support the government in stopping the virus from entering Sierra Leone, including decisions to declare a Public Health Emergency.

"Parliament hereby establishes a special Committee on the Coronavirus pandemic led by Hon. Kandeh K. Yumkella within a period not more than 90days," he said.

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