Parliament on Tuesday accepted an amendment requiring parliamentary approval, to declare a State of Public Health Emergency and forwarded it to the parliamentary Social Affairs Committee for review.
Parliamentary representative for the constituency of North Fuvahmulah Mohamed Rasheed, on June 10, submitted the amendment to the Public Health Act mandating the government to obtain parliamentary approval within 48 hours of declaring a state of a public health emergency.
The bill was accepted by a unanimous decision from all 64 parliamentarians present during the sitting.
During the debate, Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed addressed concerns over parliamentary overreach into the health sector, stating that the role of medical experts is to provide insight into a situation, while parliament is mandated to address the issue from a policy perspective.
“While a fundamental characteristic of a presidential system is to ensure check and balances, the bill as it is, does not have identifiable check and balances”, said MP Mohamed Rasheed.
He further stated that while parliamentary approval is required to declare a state of emergency by the incumbent president, there is no reason to bar the parliament from issuing an approval to declare a public health emergency.
If the motion proposed by the lawmaker from Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) comes to pass, extensions to the state of public health emergency determined by the Director-General of Public Health would henceforth be subject to approval from the legislative body.
According to the current provisions laid out in the Public Health Act, parliamentary clearance is not required when a state of a public health emergency is declared by the Minister of Health.
The amendment also proposes that an audit report, detailing expenditure during the state of emergency, be compiled and presented to the president, the parliament and the auditor general.
Authorities granted to the parliament by the amendment
- Rejecting a request to declare a state of a public health emergency
- Extending a state of public health emergency by a maximum of 30 days
- Amending the request
- Partially or completely approving a request
The Public Health Act, which was implemented in 2012, accords the power to declare a state of public health emergency to the Director-General of Public Health, who also advises the Minister of Health on the areas to be designated as under emergency, as well as on the government’s immediate response.
Some of the steps that could be taken under public health emergency include:
- Holding vaccination programmes for certain groups of people as necessary
- Determining the distribution of vaccines, medicines and other related materials, based on the urgency of need by different groups of people
- Shutting down educational institutions and prohibiting public gatherings
- Providing assistance and resources to people in quarantine
- Imposing travel restrictions and bans, including via land, sea and air
The Maldives declared its first-ever state of public health emergency on March 12 under Section 33 of the 7/2012 Public Health Act for a period of 30 days.
Announced in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the state of emergency was extended on four occasions with the latest extension scheduled to expire on July 14.
Full details are available at the link below:
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