For Immediate Release
The National Democratic Coalition (NDC) categorically opposes the state of emergency declared by President George Weah and is annoyed by the brutal and confusing ways in which the proclamation has been given effect by some state security forces and unformed criminals around the country. The NDC, therefore, calls on the legislature of the Republic of Liberia to oppose and revoke the state of emergency proclaimed by president Weah and uphold support for the national health emergency earlier declared under the public health law by Dr. Wilhelmina S. Jallah, Minister of Health of the Republic of Liberia in order to prevent and fight the coronavirus pandemic. The health Ministry pronouncement was made prior to the announcement of the state of emergency by Mr. Weah.
On March 22, 2020, health authorities of the Republic of Liberia declared a health emergency in order to prevent the coronavirus from invading Liberia as well as to prepare for the containment of COVID-19. Following the health emergency pronouncement, Mr. George Weah declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, without any clear plan for implementation.
It is important to bear in mind that the coronavirus attack is not a traditional security or military attack. The Liberian government has sufficient authority under the Public Health Law to issue a regulation and required compliance. Under the circumstances, to insist on a state of emergency and use of barracks regulations against the poor people of Liberia is certainly overuse and abuse of power.
According to Chapter IX, Article 86 (b) of the 1986 constitution of the Republic of Liberia, “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 clear and present danger.” As far as the NDC is concerned, the existing conditions do not amount to the outbreak of war or civil unrest, as clearly stated in the Article quoted above. Hence, it is the contention of the NDC that the state of emergency pronounced by Mr. George Weah is not only irrelevant but irrational. What is even more troubling is that in contravention of Article 88 of the constitution, the state of emergency is not justified by the facts and circumstances leading to the declaration of the state of emergency and the measures that are been taken thereunder are inappropriate. As a matter of fact, it is possible to fight the coronavirus pandemic more effectively under the national health emergency proclaimed by the Ministry of Health under the Public Health law.
The NDC does not contest the claim that the coronavirus has invaded Liberia. But the fact remains that the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are associated with various other kinds of sicknesses in Liberia. So they are not new to the health sector in the country. As should be the case, that is why health authorities advised the Liberian people to follow and practice preventive health measures.
While some still challenge the availability of effective testing and treatment centers, our research shows that many of the health workers at the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Medical Center in Sinkor, Monrovia and many other health facilities have never even seen a ventilator. Moreover, our research shows that about eighty (80) percent of the doctors at JFK have withdrawn their services due to the failure of the government to clarify their positions and support their works in the wake of the health emergency declaration. As a result, the present capacity of JFK does not allow for attention to more than fifty (50) patients each day. Such patients must scramble among hundred (100) others for registration starting from 5:30 in the morning.
Meanwhile, it is said that like previous Liberian governments, the government of Liberia under George Weah does not behave as if it is responsible to the people of the country. From the politicization of the appointment of health authorities to the creation of parallel structures in the battle against COVID-19, the over-politicization of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, as reflected in the declaration of the state of emergency by Mr. Weah, has the potential of creating hardship, increasing poverty, building tension, generating chaos, and therefore undermining the peace and stability of the country. Moreover, restriction of citizen movement within and across county borders is not a helpful approach.
Incidentally, it is clear that with high incidences of the coronavirus disease reported in developed countries where the health systems are known to be advanced, the Liberian government is hiding behind the fact that since the pandemic is a global phenomenon, the rise in cases in Liberia will not be attributed to the careless handling of and very poor support for the health system by highly corrupt government officials. It will be necessary to watch out for such excuses.
The NDC sees the declaration of the state of emergency in the middle of the health emergency as a wrong and unwarranted policy decision that will eventually increase the suffering of the poor, marginalize, and vulnerable people of Liberia. Accordingly, the NDC calls on the national legislature to disapprove and withdraw the state of emergency. As it occurs in Liberia, the pandemic is a non-traditional security matter which should not be treated through traditional security measures such as emphasizing the presence of very ruthless security forces that are intimidating, harassing, brutalizing, and disrespecting peaceful citizens. After all, it is scary that a government that buys more rattan switches than medical supplies in such a critical health situation could easily end up complicating rather than stopping the coronavirus spread in Liberia.
Evidently, the use of state funds and international assistance on state security forces and government-sponsored partisan thugs for the promotion of the images of political leaders rather than to support the health workers, emergency workers, and media practitioners (who take the highest risks and lead awareness campaigns) is a waste of resources and unsolicited practice of coronavirus politics, which ought to be quarantined.
In addition to supporting the health system and awareness campaigns, it is therefore expected that the government will also make efforts to promote effective national border control, increase testing and improve treatment. Above all, the mobilization of the individual citizens and community engagements in the fight against the pandemic will pave the path to success. And it will be necessary for reports on the emerging situation in Liberia to reflect the reality as will be.
For once, the NDC thus calls on the legislature to act properly in the interest of the country and its citizens. So relying on the will of the legislature to act in the national interest, it is the hope of the NDC that when the story of Liberia is told in the post coronavirus era, the government of Liberia will be able to show not only that it effectively led the country and its people to contain the coronavirus but that it also supported the citizens and sustain the economy during the battle against COVID-19.
In closing, the NDC calls on all Liberians to continue to observe with utmost seriousness the precautionary safety measures and protocols outlined by the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) in order to save themselves and others. In the same regard, it is hoped that the government will take note of and discouraged selective adherence to health protocols, which continue to be violated by certain government officials.
Alaric K. Tokpa