Opposition fiercely opposes extension to State of Emergency

Leader of the Opposition Jamale Pringle
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Barbuda’s MP Trevor Walker (File photo)

By Elesha George

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A resolution to further extend the State of Emergency until 28th June, 2021 passed in Parliament on Thursday but not without fierce objection from the two opposition members, who argued that there was no genuine justification to further extend the State of Emergency when an alternate route was available.

Antigua and Barbuda has been under a public state of emergency for just about one year, with the government insisting it is the best way to institute the kind of measures needed to curb the spread of Covid-19.

However, on Thursday, Leader of the Opposition, Jamale Pringle and Barbuda MP Trevor Walker both opposed the extension, arguing that enforcing the Public Health Act (Dangerous Infectious Disease) would be just as effective as a state of emergency.

Pringle said he would not support any state of emergency for another three months.

“What I will support, Mr Speaker, is the protocols put in place by the Ministry of Health, according to the Public Health Act,” he declared.

Pringle said that the Public Health Act could facilitate curfew and other measures needed to manage the spread of Covid without the enactment of the State of Emergency.

Walker also supported the protocols argument but added that he did not support “the mechanisms used to enforce these protocols”, reiterating that a state of emergency is too restrictive.

“What I’m not supporting is that under the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda that has entrenched rights, individuals’ rights, that you’re gonna have this cloud hanging over our rights just to enforce a curfew and some other things. That can be done, under Section 8 [of the Constitution], under the Public Health Act,” he argued.

Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin, in his interpretation of the Constitution, explained “what that law says is that if there is any law passed that is designed to protect public health, it cannot be inconsistent with the freedom of movement”.

He noted that the Public Health Act was only applicable under a state of emergency.

“It has to be declared a state of emergency for things to follow,” he stressed.  

In his contribution, Prime Minister Gaston Browne stated that “the state of emergency in itself does not create a problem for anyone; the state of emergency in itself does not curtail the hours to socialise; it is a curfew that actually curtails those hours”.

He made the statement in an attempt to sway the opposition to not once more frivolously oppose the measure which had gone before Parliament concurrently four times prior.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said that the government is hoping to shorten the curfew hours after the Easter holidays from, 11 pm to 5 am.

Ultimately, nine government MPs voted to extend the state of emergency while the two opposition MPs voted against it.

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