Prominent Lusaka lawyer John Sangwa,S.C has urged President Edgar Lungu to declare a State of Public Emergency to combat the coronavirus.
In a letter dated March 26, 2020 to President Edgar Lungu and copied to the Law Association of Zambia, Mr Sangwa says the measures introduced by the government under the public health Act to combat the coronavirus are woefully inadequate to contain the ravages of the virus.
Mr Sangwa said that although the Constitution was the supreme law of the land, the maxim: Salus populi est suprema lex (‘The health, welfare, good, salvation, felicity of the people should be the supreme law”), remains true.
“Given the very desperate state of our economy and healthcare system, the coronavirus is a clear and present danger to our very existence as a country. The measures introduced by your government under the public health Act are woefully inadequate to contain the ravages of the virus. Globally, the knowledge of the virus is constantly being updated and no one knows for certain what the end will be or even how the world and life as we have known it will be once the virus is contained,” he said.
He said that it was clear that rich countries in the north would not help since they were equally affected by the same pandemic and their primary responsibility was to their own people,” he wrote.
“Given the very desperate state of our economy and healthcare system, the corona virus is a clear and present danger to our very existence as a country. The measures introduced by your Government under the Public Health Act are woefully inadequate to contain the ravages of the virus.”
“Globally, the knowledge of the virus is constantly being updated and no one knows for certain what the end will be or even how the world and life as we have known it will be once the virus is contained. It is clear that the rich countries in the north will not help us since they are equally affected by the same pandemic. The primary responsibility of those governments is to their own people.”
He added, “Whilst the international organisations such as the World Bank have offered to help, the presence of the corona virus in Zambia is a Zambian problem, which requires an urgent Zambian solution.”
“Given the experience of Italy and Spain, one shudders to imagine what the impact of the virus will be in Zambia given our depressed economy and the poor state of our health care system. Whilst the countries of Europe have the infrastructure and financial muscle to survive the pandemic and rebuild their economies as a country, we have nothing comparable.”
“I am not a medical expert, but common-sense dictates (given the experiences of other countries) that if we are to survive this pandemic the answer lies in your Government taking such measures as may be necessary to contain the number of cases already in the country and halt the introduction of new cases into the country.”
He continued, “The measures taken so far are totally inadequate. They do not engender confidence in the people that your Government is in charge of the situation. The solution is for you Mr President to exercise your powers under Article 30 of the Constitution and declare that a state of public emergency exists.”
“It is better for us to sacrifice our rights and freedoms now for a period not exceeding three months than to continue to enjoy these rights and freedoms at the cost of the destruction of the very people that are meant to enjoy them in the future.”
“We need clarity and direction in the management of our lives and businesses. The Regulations issued under the Public Health Act do not address these concerns. The traditional laws and institutions cannot adequately deal with the corona virus. I accordingly ask you to declare a state of public emergency and issue comprehensive regulations (Corona Virus Emergency Regulations) which must address: movements of people in and out of Zambia; (b) restrict movement of people within the country; (c) the rights of the employees and employers in various industries; (d) the provision of essential services; (e) the protection of businesses during this period; and the duties and responsibilities of the financial institutions and the Zambia Revenue Authority during this period.”
He said the piecemeal announcement of measures by your Government to address the situation does not help.
“Comprehensive regulations are required with regard to all aspects of our lives. Even in the case of public emergency people need clarity from the law as contained in the regulations to plan their lives. The regulations can be developed in consultation with key stakeholders.”
“In the interest of time some of the regulations promulgated pursuant to the provisions of the Emergency Powers Act and the Preservation of Public Security Act, in the past, can be adapted to the current situation. I know that the mention of the declaration of the state of emergency evokes bad memories of opposition political leaders being detained without trial. These fears can be allayed by limiting the purpose of the regulations to containing the corona virus and its effects.”
“The emergency powers were conceived for such situations. The rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are meaningful only if the very existence of the country and its people are assured.”