By Momodou Jarju
Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou has recently informed lawmakers in Banjul that Coronavirus, now regarded as Covid-19, will hit The Gambia hard and it’s going to be in phases.
The attorney general who spoke after parliamentarians debated at the National Assembly in Banjul, a day after he tabled the motion for the extension of the State of Public Emergency (SoPE), said they understand the challenges the people will be grappling with, but it is important that caution is taken to mitigate the pandemic.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak some months back, and sequel to its start last month in the country, several sectors of the country have been affected. These sectors include education, tourism, transportation, sports, small businesses, the fishing industry and Lumos (open markets) etc.
“It’s not going to be easy for all of us, is going to hit all of us hard, every sector, it will come in phases. Perhaps this is the phase for the commercial drivers. Perhaps this is the phase for those who sell non-food outlets in markets. But it is on the way and it’s going to affect each and every one of us in this economy. But at least we try to mitigate the situation for the ordinary people by putting a cap on the fares and the objective as the honorable member for Banjul North said is to restrict movement. Let people move for the most essential services,” he said.
SoPE Extension Motion
Minister Tambadou appeared before the representatives of Gambians at the National Assembly and begged them to extend the period of a state of public emergency for 90 days to fight against a deadly virus, spreading its tentacles across the world. During the period he was moving his motion, the country had four confirmed cases.
In a bid to combat the virus, Tambedou argued that the government needed the 90 days’ extension to do “proper planning and organization for the implementation of the immediate, medium and long term preventive and precautionary measures to save lives and balance the competing political, social and economic interests expected in such times of natural and global crisis.”
Tambadou’s motion was deferred to the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights and Constitutional Matters for scrutiny. The committee came up with a report the following day, on Friday. Debate on the report ensued.
The Friday-emergency meeting wasn’t conclusive despite the justice minister’s motion was approved with a slashed of 45 days. The Government failed in its motion to provide compensation mechanism or stimulus package for people who will be affected during this period. This didn’t augur well with many Gambians and dozens of their representatives at the national assembly.
Sidia Jatta, Wuli West lawmaker who was visibly furious, said the covid-19 has terribly exposed the county’s disorganized nature, while noting that both the proposed 90 and 45 days’ extension did not convince him to support its approval.
Jatta questioned the finance and economic minister’s comment that they are still looking into ways to compensate the weak and vulnerable Gambians.
“They cannot see (lawmakers laughed). You are laughing? This is not a laughing matter. They are still looking. (Minister of finance) they are looking, they cannot see,” he said.
The plenary, constituting all lawmakers, recommended the constitution of a special committee to engage stakeholders on the fight against Covid-19 as well as monitor the implementation of plans or actions taken to combat the deadly virus. Stimulus package is part of the recommendation made to the special committee to look into.
Last week, the chairperson of the Special Committee on the Implementation of the State of Public Emergency Regulations 2020, Alhagie Mbow, said the finance and economic affairs minister Mambury Njie, informed them that they are working out to help the Gambian population as soon as possible.
Tambadou said the idea of conditioning the extension of the period of state of public emergency to the assistance that the government must provide to the most vulnerable is really unfortunate.
“Because what happens if the Government cannot afford that? Are we going to get rid of the restrictions and risk spreading the virus in our communities? We all have kids; we all have the aged in our homes. This is what I want you to reflect upon,” he said.
Nonetheless, Tambadou said they will leave with the 45 days the standing committee recommended, saying what they want is to buy time to be able to stop the spread of the virus.
“If 45 days is going to do it for us, we will take it, if it doesn’t, when we get there we will cross the bridge,” he said.
Fears Of Weak Health Sector
The Gambia has a weak health sector with less than five ventilators for over two million people, majority of Gambians are unsure what would become of them if the country registers more cases.
Minister Tambadou warned that the country cannot handle the weight of more Covid-19 cases because its “already overburdened health infrastructure will simply collapse.”
“When it peaks, as predicted by health experts, it will not only kill people, but there is a high chance that it will also decimate our frontline health workers. We simply cannot afford this to happen,” he said.
Already, the country is predicted to reach its peak in June-July and experts have warned that Gambia could have about 181,000 cases if social distancing, which has been a major problem among Gambians, is shunned. If this figure is anything to go by, this is about one- twelfth of the population of the country.
Also, the country has hit double digit as of April 19, 2020. Out of the 10 confirmed cases, seven of them are active, two of the cases have since recovered and one case has died. In March, four cases were confirmed in the country and in April six cases have been confirmed already.
Regulations To Prevent Opportunists
The government outlined regulations in tandem with the state of public emergency. The regulations are restrictions which Tambadou said in his view are the barest minimum that the government can provide to protect the people of this country from getting the pandemic.
He argued that the purpose of the regulations on essential commodities 2020 is to prevent hoarding, re-exporting and price hike in the country.
“It’s the minimum but we have also got safeguards. Three of the four regulations that we presented to you for affirmation are to restrict movement to prevent infection. The other regulation on essential commodities is to protect the people of this country from opportunists who will hike the prices of basic commodities that we will all need to survive at the minimum,” he said.
According to Tambadou, the regulations are the first of many that are going to come.
“These were done very quickly and we only provided the minimum that we will need in these regulations to be able to control or manage the spread of this virus for now. They will be amended; they will be revised but other regulations will also come to regulate every other aspect of life in this country going forward. But for now, all we ask honorable speaker and members is that you extend this state of emergency,” he said.
The sad story was that at the time the Attorney General was making his remarks and even now, the regulations have not been published in the Gambia Gazette while the Constitution requires every law to be published in the Gazette to be enforceable. The purpose is to ensure that the law is accessible since ignorance of the law is no excuse.