The opposition National Democratic Congress held a press conference on the Imposition of Restrictions Bill 2020, below is a full text of the briefing.
Good morning to you our friends from the media.
A few days ago, we learnt of a Bill titled “Imposition of Restrictions Bill, 2020” presented to Parliament by the Honourable Attorney General, Miss Gloria Akuffo, on behalf of President Akufo-Addo for expeditious passage and implementation. The Bill is purported to be part of measures government is taking to manage the CODVID 19 pandemic.
The NDC as a political party has no objections to laws that will assist our country to deal with the current COVID19 pandemic. We will even encourage and assist in drafting such legislation if required.
However, the Bill before Parliament bears the hallmarks of authoritarian rule and the NDC would like to state right from the onset that we are totally opposed to it in its current form. We have therefore brought you here to share with you our concerns and give the reasons for our opposition to same.
LADIES & GENTLEMEN of the media
We acknowledge the need for the State to take effective measures to fight the COVID19 pandemic. It is that fact that makes this bill all the more alarming. Indeed, the present crisis requires a comprehensive set of policy measures that respond to its attendant public health, social and economic impacts. A single draconian measure like the proposed Restriction Bill is limited in its utility and myopic in its constitutional considerations.
All Ghanaians including the NPP majority itself must be alarmed at the content of this bill. The bill gives to the President broad powers and authority devoid of any checks and balances.
This bill is the most egregious attack on our fundamental human rights and freedom since the inception of the 4th Republic. It is the type you would expect from dictators like Iddi Amin and President Bokasa of the Central African Republic who ended up crowning himself Emperor. The reach of the bill, including the power of the President to specify offences and penalties by an executive instrument, is so unprecedented that we are reminded of the dark days in our political history when our liberties counted for nothing.
Our scepticism over the intent of this bill is founded on the inconsistency and lack of candor displayed by the President in the enforcement of those measures needed to address this pandemic. In the first instance, the announcement of a $100 million allocation to that fight has turned out to be a political gimmick. The Finance Minister confirmed as much when he stated that those funds were not presently available, and would have to be sought from the IMF. As yet, there is still no clarity as to when these desperately needed funds may be available.
Further, the response of the NIA and the EC to the President’s directive on social distancing continue to undermine the urgent necessity for total compliance. The former, which is an agency under the Office of the President, was first to disregard the call and continues with its careless disregard for public safety. And although it is within the authority of the President to call the institution to order, no such action has been taken yet.
The belligerence of the EC also undermines the public health response. At a time when all efforts should be directed at expanding awareness of the lethal virus and measures to prevent its transmission, the EC’s behaviour is distracting the public attention. And the expenditure associated with the compilation of the needless new register is a luxury this nation can ill afford in the face of an impending economic crisis. The insistence on this exercise reflects a dangerous lack of priorities that is also inconsistent with the demands of the emergency we face.
Ladies and gentlemen, to quote Pastor Mensah Otabil, there is something on the prowl. We do not trust the underlying intent of this bill, and we do not trust this particular President to exercise the wide powers the bill seeks to grant him for the limited purpose of addressing the threat to public health that COVID-19 poses.
In any case there is currently in our Statute Books pieces of legislation, namely, the Public Health Act 2012 (Act 851), the Public Order Act 1994 (Act 491) and the Immigration Act 2000 (Act 573) and together, these laws provide sufficient measures that the state can employ to address the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the Public Health Act provides in adequate detail the powers that state authorities can exercise without the extensive threat to human rights that the bill under consideration is envisaging.
In addition, the Public Health Act 2012 incorporates into our laws the well-measured, balanced and specifically tailored World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations to help us confront this threat to our public health.
The Immigration Act additionally equips the Immigration Department with sufficient authority to control movements in and out of the country without the sweeping powers granted the president in the bill to virtually toy with the lives of our countrymen and women. Again, the Public Order Act 1994 (Act 491) empowers the Minister of Interior to take certain actions “ in the interest of “public safety” and “public health”.
Ladies and gentlemen, the powers President Akufo-Addo will assume under the bill are no different in substance from those that were granted by the Preventive Detention Act to our first President and the National Liberation Council under the Protective Custody Decree. The current Act presented has at Section3(1)(d) the following:
“The President may impose a restriction under subsection (1) of section 2 where
(d) the restriction is reasonably required for the purpose of safeguarding the people of Ghana against the teaching or propagation of a doctrine which exhibits or encourages disrespect for the nationhood of Ghana, the National symbols and emblems or incites hatred against other members of the community.”
How does this section have any bearing on COVID19 or any other health issue for that matter?
We are convinced, beyond all peradventure, that President Akufo-Addo will use these powers to settle scores, restrict the lawful activities of individuals, including opposition political parties and generally make it impossible for the tenets of democracy to thrive in this election year. In short, as far as the NDC is concerned, President Akufo-Addo is using the excuse of the coronavirus pandemic, which does not even receive a passing mention in the bill, to complete the erection of the rigging infrastructure that he has been engaged in since he assumed office.
In any case, ladies and gentlemen of the media, Article 31 of the 1992 Constitution provides elaborate measures for how this country should be governed in a state of emergency. Those provisions give Parliament very wide powers of oversight such that rights guaranteed by the Constitution are not abused by a president with evident dictatorial tendencies.
We in the NDC will not acquiesce in the deformation of a constitution that the people of Ghana approved for themselves and for their generations unborn.
For a statute which is for a particular purpose, it is questionable why there are no time limits for its expiration. This unfettered power is unconstitutional.
As hinted at earlier, this proposed law is virtually silent on the well-known and accepted constitutional procedures by which alone the dignity and freedoms of the Ghanaian citizens are protected.
In conclusion, we call on civil society, religious leaders, the House of Chiefs and peace-loving Ghanaians including those in NPP itself not to be complicit in their silence in the face of this latest assault on democratic rule by the President.
We must all fight against the pernicious legislation which will confer unfettered power on President Akuffo Addo and others who may come after him.
The Imposition of Restrictions Bill has little to do with the fight against the coronavirus. The Bill is from the playbook of “wanabe” despots who capitalize on emergencies such as we have to muzzle dissent and suppress opposition in order to consolidate their hold on power.
May God help us to resist oppressors rule with all our hearts and minds.
Thank you all for coming.