S.O.E. orders, social distancing and common sense

You only have to look at the hundreds of people turning up at the Office of the Electoral Commission at the Samoa National Provident Plaza [S.N.P.F.] and the E.F.K.S. Hall at Mulinu'u in recent days, and you realise how a lot of citizens don’t connect with the Government’s state of emergency [S.O.E.] orders.

And we don’t blame the people for getting on with their lives, either, especially with the local economy in doldrums and a critically-important General Election in our country’s history just over five months away. 

At these public gatherings at the S.N.P.F. and the E.F.K.S. Hall at Mulinu'u, there has been no social distancing of any kind, and no policemen or women in sight to enforce the law. Except for two who were a few metres outside the church-owned hall on Thursday, directing and maintaining traffic flow.

Ironically, at this time five years ago, Samoa’s eligible voters went through the same motions, to turn up at the O.E.C. in numbers months away from polling to check if they were registered to vote. Only this time around, our electoral cycle is now in full swing, but against the backdrop of the COVID-19 global pandemic and its flow-on effects.

A large public gathering during a S.O.E. at an official Government-sanctioned program, in this case the voter-registration program, raises questions about whether there was communication between the Police and the office in the lead-up to the 4pm Thursday deadline for eligible voters to get registered.

We say this knowing how the Police has strictly enforced the S.O.E. orders on social distancing and forced the closure of events over the last seven months, while others that fit the description of a ‘public gathering’ – where there should only be 100 people or less but actually have more in attendance – are mysteriously allowed to continue without compliance to the law.

But then again, we cannot continue to point the finger at individuals, private organisations, churches, and even Government Offices for continuing to flout the laws of the land, when Samoa remains one of nine Pacific nations that are COVID-19 free.

Why should we continue to subject the people to draconian and unrealistic S.O.E. orders when our international border remains tightly shut to the world and we are yet to record a single COVID-19 case?

Our people are intelligent beings and we are sure this burning question would have and continues to cross their minds.

And what about that embarrassing episode the previous weekend when the Police gatecrashed a Saint Mary’s Old Girls Association [S.M.O.G.A.] fundraiser, despite the organisers having already got approval from the National Emergency Operations Centre [N.E.O.C.] Chairman Ulu Bismarck Crawley?

That too would have got the public talking about the inconsistencies in the application and enforcement of the S.O.E. orders by law enforcement agencies.

Amidst these confusion and the uncertainty amongst the population, driven by a set of emergency laws that appear to change on a weekly basis, surely the time is upon us for common sense, rationale and reality on the part of the Government and its agents in terms of the application of the S.O.E. orders.

At some point – after seven months of living with restrictions of all forms and kinds under the guise of the S.O.E. orders – discussions should start within the relevant Government agencies on its impact on our economy and the lives of the people and what steps should be taken to return to normalcy due to the nation's COVID-19 free status.

Surely, our leaders would be in a better position now, two months out from the end of this financial year, to calculate the cost that the S.O.E. is having on the economy and more specifically the private sector.

On the eve of White Sunday celebrations – easily one of the country’s largest annual church celebrations – citizens would want to worship with their children in their local churches without the need to look over their shoulders, and worry about unannounced visits by uniformed officers. 

This White Sunday weekend is, perhaps, an opportune time for the Government to let citizens worship in peace and get on with their lives without worrying about the confusion surrounding the interpretation and application of the various emergency laws.

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