Member of Parliament calls for balanced penalties

The Associate Minister of Communications, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, has called for more balanced penalties to be incorporated into a bill which proposes to fine principals and parents up to $10,000 for enrolling children without evidence of their being vaccinated. 

Leala was among Members of Parliament who received a briefing on the Infants Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2019 at the Parliament's pre-sitting on Monday.

Amendments to the Education Act 2009 outlined in the bill would subject a principal who enrolls a child without ensuring they present a certified copy of a complete, vaccination and immunisation record from birth, is liable to a fine up to $10,000. 

The same fine is subject to a parent or career who wilfully or recklessly provides false information in lieu of a certified copy of a complete vaccination and immunisation record of a child from birth.

Lealailepule, Faleata Sisifo's Member of Parliament, queried why the bills targeted parents and principals not Government agencies. 

"There are so many thoughts which will be raised in the big Parliamentary meeting, but one thing I want to raise with the Attorney General about the drafting of the bill is that it seems the weight of the bill is carried by the parents and children," Lealailepule said.

"What about those who are supposed to be doing the job? It should also outline penalties for Government officials who are not doing their job."

Lealailepule pointed to the important role the Ministry of Health plays in conducting outreach programmes.

"For us who grew up in Samoa, we're all about outreach. There are many who do not know better, and do not want to come; if we do not do our job, they will never come," he said. 

"And when we leave it to their free will, well, we have seen that their ignorance has brought suffering to the whole country.

"But if we are now talking about penalties, there is only one person who has their penalty outlined in this bill when they accept a child without proof of vaccination, it's just the principal.

"Everyone should be responsible when they do not perform their duties, there needs to be a balance in the bill."

In response, the Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, denied the bill was in any way discriminatory.

He said it is something to help the Director General of the Ministry of Health seek assistance from other Ministries to raise vaccination rates. 

An amendment for the Education Act 2009 includes application changes for the enrollment of a child as a student at a school including, the child's identity and age, in compliance with the M.O.H. requirements. 

Also required is a: certified copy of the child's complete vaccination and immunisation record from birth, the child's place of residence, the identity of the person who is enrolling the child and any other information or matter as the Chief Executive Officer requires, in respect of school enrollments. 

The bill also seeks to add a new section (77) to the Education Act 2009 titled: "Time for compliance with the provision of health policies".

"(1) All schools registered under this Act before 1 January 2020 must have their relevant health policies including but not limited to a measles, mumps and rubella vaccination and immunisation policy in place, by 30 June 2020," the inclusion reads. 

"(2) Failure by a school to meet the requirements of subsection (1) may be a ground for the de-registration of that school."

The bill seeks to amend the Infants Ordinance 1961 and other laws in response to the measles outbreak in Samoa. These other laws include the Education Act 2009, the Village Fono Act 1990, the Internal Affairs Act 1995 and the Ministry of Women Affairs Act 1990.

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