This week government presented a bill to Parliament (Imposition of Restrictions Bill, 2020), arguing that the move was necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19. Indeed the memorandum accompanying the Bill states that: “the purpose of  Bill is to provide for powers to impose restrictions on persons in the event of a disaster, emerging or similar circumstance, to ensure public safety and protection”.

It continues by stating that “ the Bill is therefore intended to provide a legislative framework in consonance with the Constitution, for the imposition of restrictions, as a quick and effective means of intervention to address emergencies”. 

I will encourage everyone to spare a few minutes of their time and read the proposed bill. Social media is awash with it. I am not a lawyer and would not pretend to be one, but I believe that I have a fair grasp of the English language to understand the contents of the bill and therefore can make some preliminary comments. 

The Bill aims at imposing some restrictions on us in the event of a disaster or similar circumstance to ensure public safety and protection. While such restrictions may be essential during a public health emergency, government actions come at a time when concerns have been raised on attempts by government to trample on the rights of individuals and organisations seen to be critical of it. Examples include; the closing down of media houses, the threat to the lives of Journalists to mention but a few.

As a Ghanaian, my concern is that government may be using the coronavirus as a pretext to crack down on human rights for political purposes. Though some limitations are undoubtedly necessary to address a pandemic, there is a real risk that this crisis could trigger a lasting national backslide in fundamental freedoms — and it’s already started.

While a pandemic like the COVID-19 creates an ideal situation for disinformation, the government through this Bill, is using this threat to justify heavy censorship, smothering independent sources of information along with any legitimately harmful content. 

The Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851)  consolidates all the laws relating to public health to prevent disease, promote, safeguard, maintain and protect the health of humans and animals and to provide for related matters. So if the government is so minded that this law has some gaps, it is only proper that such amendments are suggested to parliament for enactment but to create a whole new law with such unfettered powers given to the President can only be dangerous.

This law seeks to crash dissent, mobilise resources and use the same without accountability and to go after our freedoms.

We have an emergency and yes our quest to stay alive makes us vulnerable to authorities in their quest to claim more powers than they actually require to protect us. Let’s all be interested in this Bill and let’s all speak out.

EDWARD ABAMBIRE BAWA
MP, BONGO