Mozambique parliament ratifies state of emergency

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Maputo – The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Tuesday night ratified the declaration of a state of emergency, announced by President Filipe Nyusi the previous day, in order to halt the spread of the respiratory disease Covid-19.

As amended by the Assembly, the declaration strengthens measures of obligatory quarantine. Anyone who has entered Mozambique in the last two weeks must go into quarantine. That includes all the Mozambicans who returned to the country from South Africa last Thursday, and there are estimated to be around 23,000 of them, scattered across the southern provinces.

All people who have been in direct contact with anyone diagnosed with Covid-19 must also go into quarantine for 14 days.

People who break quarantine will be confined to their homes, or put into “an adequate establishment”.

All religious services, political events, cultural, recreational and tourist activities are banned, with the exception of matters of state or social events that cannot be delayed. The main “social events” exempted are funerals. The events allowed must all follow the preventive measures decreed by the Ministry of Health.

All means of passenger transport, whether publicly or privately owned, must implement preventive measures. These are not specified, but they certainly include a ban on overcrowding.

The country’s borders will be “partially closed”. Exempt from this closure are “interests of state, humanitarian support, health, and transport of cargo”.  

In the event of “an exponential increase in cases of contamination”, the movement of people in any part of Mozambique may be limited. Currently the number of known Covid-19 cases is just eight, and so this provision in the decree is unlikely to be activated in the near future.

Commercial entertainment establishments (which are not defined) must close down or reduce their activity.

The decree gives the state the power to requisition health or similar services – in other words, during the coronavirus crisis, the state could take over private clinics and pharmacies.

The decree instructs state bodies to monitor the prices of essential goods, and to re-orient Mozambican industries towards producing inputs that are necessary for fighting against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The state must adopt “sustainable fiscal and monetary policy measures to help the private sector face the impact of the pandemic”, and must also adopt communication strategies to step up education of the communities and to spread messages of prevention, including in Mozambican languages”.

The decree also includes the measures already taken by the government in March – including the closure of all schools, suspending the issuing of entry visas and cancelling those already issued.

The decree makes it clear that these measures are exceptional. “They must respect the principle of proportionality, and their extent, duration and the means used shall be limited to what is strictly necessary”, it says.

All public and private bodies are obliged to collaborate with the state of emergency and, if necessary, the defence and security measures shall guarantee implementation of the measures.

The decree gives a list of essential services that must be maintained during the state of emergency. These include: hospital and other medical services, water, electricity and fuel supply, sale of foodstuffs and other basic goods, loading and unloading livestock and perishable foods, posts and telecommunications, air traffic control, sanitation services, the fire brigade, private security services, and funeral services.

The decree was ratified by all 208 deputies present, in a roll call. Each deputy had to answer yes or no, as their names were called out – the first time this procedure has been used in the Assembly.

The Assembly refused to be steamrollered, and insisted on amendments so that the state of emergency could not be used to justify repression. These concerns were expressed, not only by the two opposition parties, Renamo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), but also by the Assembly’s Commission on Legal and Constitutional Matters. 

Renamo deputy Venancio Mondlane warned of the temptation for the government to use the emergency measures to repress rights and freedoms. “It is important to clarify the circumstances under which the defence and security forces may be called upon, so that they are not used to repress political opponents”, he said.

 This concern was echoed by MDM deputy Francisco Bismarque, who warned that “the state of emergency must not be used to harass political opponents, journalists and civil society activists”.

 Despite this debate, Assembly chairperson Esperanca Bias tried to move to an immediate vote on the unamended text of the declaration, without including the changes suggested in the debate. The opposition, however, was reluctant to vote on something without seeing the final text.       

 

Justice Minister Helena Kida, who presented the declaration on behalf of Nyusi, said that she too was in favour of the changes proposed by the Commission and the opposition. So the session was interrupted and the declaration rewritten, to the satisfaction of all. These delays ensured that the final vote was not taken until almost 23.00.

 The declaration just gives the bare bones of the State of Emergency. The Council of Ministers is now expected to put flesh on those bones with a series of specific decrees.

 The Mozambican State of Emergency is far from the total lockdown imposed in South Africa or in several European countries. It is phase three of the government’s plan for dealing with Covid-19. Phases one and two were the measures take in March.

 The government hopes it will not have to move to Phase Four, which would be a lockdown, with a curfew confining people to their homes, the closure of all but essential activities, and drastic restrictions on transport.

 

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