Sensitivity needed now more than ever … but it might take a legal challenge
The way to continue to protect Samoa from the coronavirus pandemic appears quite simple. Without a case of the deadly virus on our shores, the Government should keep the border shut to anyone or anything from those countries where there are cases.
It is why the Government’s plan to consider cancelling repatriation flights from New Zealand makes sense, especially given the resurgence of cases in that country and the fact the alert level for Auckland was elevated back to level 3 yesterday. This latest development out of New Zealand should alarm us all, especially coming from South Auckland where many of our people are concentrated. It will only take one person to bring the virus to Samoa.
So far we have been blessed that with hundreds of Samoans who have been repatriated from New Zealand, no one has been tested positive. Which is a credit to the collective effort by everyone working to ensure this remains the case.
That said, as long as we keep the virus away from Samoa, we believe everything else in Samoa should be allowed to operate as normal as possible. This would ensure that the impact of the border shutdown and the knock-on effects of the global preventative measures on people and businesses are cushioned and kept to a minimum.
We cannot say that this is happening in Samoa. Far from it. The worry is that without a case of the virus, this country is hurting unnecessarily, from businesses to ordinary people, who have had to wear the worst of an emergency that doesn’t even exist on these shores.
It’s hard to shake that feeling that all these other restrictions are unnecessary. Looking at some of them, including the Sunday restrictions, what do they have to do with the coronavirus? Is it prevention or paranoia?
The latest change to the state of emergency S.O.E. orders made by the Government towards the end of last week involved the closing of small shops on Sunday mornings. In defending the change, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi said people should be encouraged to go to church instead.
“At first, we allowed small shops to open with the reason that people need to buy small things like beard cutters for fathers on Sundays, tinned fish for faiai elegi,” Tuilaepa said. “But what happened is that people have continuously been bombarding the small shops on Sundays, which means they are waiting to do all their shopping on Sunday forgetting that they have to be in church in the morning.”
What does this have to do with the coronavirus? Has the Government suddenly realised that everyone needs to go to church on Sunday? How has shutting down shops on Sunday and forcing more people to go to church reduced the crime rate in Samoa which appears to be skyrocketing?
For a long time now, the business community has been calling for common sense on the part of the Government in terms of the restrictions on trade and commerce. Back in April, prominent local businessman, Lemalu Ray Ah Liki, called on the Government to ease some of these restrictions to jumpstart the economy. At the time, Lemalu said a number of restrictions should be lifted to stimulate the economy.
Lemalu argued that Samoa would have to provide its own stimulus and that can only happen when businesses are allowed to operate normally – including all the markets they have closed on Sunday mornings.
We are in August now, five months after Samoa went into lockdown. Not only has the Government tightened the screws in terms of restrictions, the suffering on the part of businesses and people who have been left jobless and broke has become even worse. This is clearly reflected in crime statistics and the moral fibre of society as people become desperate, angry and are willing to do anything to get by.
What’s even more concerning is that the Government doesn’t appear to care. The more people complain, the worse these S.O.E orders become. So what’s next?
Well on Sunday, a senior lawyer in Samoa warned that the Government could be taken to Court by anyone who believes certain S.O.E. orders are an attempt to expand the scope of Government powers, instead of protecting the country.
“It is arguable that orders which: limit customary observances like funerals and celebrations; impose a Sunday ban on trading and commerce; impose a Sunday ban on swimming and impose restrictions upon shops, businesses and sole traders to trade during specific times and days do not come within the purpose and authority of the Proclamation,” a legal opinion provided by the senior lawyer reads. “The constant change of unexplained, illogical, anti-business and pointless restrictions upon hotels, tourist ventures, small shops, supermarkets small businesses, farmers and people who sell produce to live, where no Covid-19 is present, has created extensive financial loss at every level of the community; failed businesses and failing businesses, increasing and unmanageable household debt; struggling families; hunger; depression; increased domestic violence and crime and social conflict.”
On the front page of Tuesday’s Samoa Observer, the President of the Samoa Association of Manufacturers and Exporters (S.A.M.E.), Tagaloa Eddie Wilson, said that although he would prefer to avoid legal action, a Court challenge against the Government might me inevitable to help businesses across Samoa who are already on their knees and facing permanent closure.
“If the Government doesn’t remove them, it’s something we need to address with the Government and start making certain demands for remedial action,” Tagaloa said. “We are not going to sit quietly, we are going to need to take it up with them and something needs to be done.”
We couldn’t agree more. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The travesty of it all is that for a country without a case of coronavirus, and with its borders firmly shut, this is a classic case of Samoa shooting herself on the foot.