The week saw turmoil as the issue of merging the GCNA and the GCA was set aside to examine a proposed COVID-19 Control Bill 2020, which saw popular views that it impinges on our rights. Grenada definitely has caught up with the mood in other parts of the world where public protest seems to be the order of the day; and so we saw groups with placards in strategic places. But, let us always be mindful that COVID-19 is our common enemy. We all must try to ensure that it does not get the better of us. The legal minds and other groups voiced opinions as they expressed concerns. While Attorney General Darshan Ramdhani said the Bill was guided by Grenada’s Constitution, there is a school of thought that believes Section 62-1 of the Constitution does not speak of a State of Emergency. More clarity on that can be had by reading Grenada’s Constitution Order 1973.
Government, after taking a Cabinet decision not to table the Bill on Wednesday’s sitting of Parliament, is now planning to take a more structured approach to involve the public by holding formal public consultation on the proposed COVID-19 CONTROL Bill 2020. The Government issued a statement saying while the Bill does not significantly change the existing regulations, and does not contravene our Constitution it has listened and will delay the process to give an opportunity to address concerns. Claudette Joseph, Public Relations Officer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), was heard expressing mistrust of the statement that it ‘will delay the process,’ as opposed to cancelling it.
Maybe upon realizing that the confusion and misunderstanding could have been avoided by the distribution of the Bill in advance, the Government said it accepted responsibility for not ensuring the public had a full explanation of the Bill before attempting to take it to Parliament, and therefore commits to improving the process. The Attorney General (AG) Darshan Ramdhani said he reached out to the President of the Grenada Bar Association (GBA) and the Bill was circulated among its members. However, the GBA said in a press release that the Bill was received from the AG’s chambers on Saturday July 25, four days before the plan to present it to Parliament. The Association determined that the responsible position it should take is to help the process by first seeking the withdrawal of the Bill to allow for consultation with the Government and other stakeholders. The GBA said given the anxiety and agitation which this Bill has already caused to the public, at a time of unprecedented national anxiety and stress, the Government of Grenada must decide whether the message now being carried by the AG is in the interest of the public, which has legitimate reasons to be concerned about the content and implications of this Bill.
The AG, in what seems to be a compromise, also spoke of a plan to set up an email address where the public can send their comments and concerns, so that they too, can have a chance to participate in the process. Does this imply the public will be accommodated by email only? Ramdhani praised the young people who showed interest in the bill. Of note here is the small group of four people including the newly sworn in Opposition Senator who stood in protest outside the Ministerial Complex on Monday. He expressed his thoughts that they are important to this process. So we await his plans to engage them in a real way.
Attorney Ruggles Ferguson, in a GBN programme, used the opportunity to stress the importance of knowing and understanding the basics of the Constitution and how the Constitution interrelates with acts of Parliament. He explained that the Constitution allows restrictions in the interest of public health, public order and public safety and therefore, gives that authority to Parliament to pass laws in the interest of public order, public safety notwithstanding, the constitutional rights of personal liberty, and freedom of assembly.
There is no quarrel that the act is to keep people safe; but people are concerned that the act is for one year against what the constitution states. Part 3, clauses 10 to 15 of the Bill provide procedures for public health officers, police officers and immigration officers to identify potentially infectious persons and to managing the exposure of other persons.
Ferguson said debates at this time are global. So, as we discuss the issues we are not alone. This newspaper is asking the public to be mindful to stick to the issues at hand while we avoid going too far with expressions of outrage.