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Government backs Peter Mutharika’s declaration

The government has defended President Peter Mutharika’s declaration of Malawi as a State of National Disaster following the threat of Covid-19 saying the declaration was made in accordance with the law.

A statement signed by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Pilirani Masanjala says Mutharika made the declaration in accordance with Section 32 of the Disaster Preparedness and Relief Act of Malawi.

The statement quotes subsection 1 of the said section saying: “If at any time it appears to the President that any disaster is of such a nature and extent that extraordinary measures are necessary to assist and protect the persons affected or likely to be affected by the disaster in any area within Malaŵi or that circumstances are likely to arise making such measures necessary, the President may, in such manner as he considers fit, declare that, with effect from a date specified by him in the declaration, a state of disaster exists within an area defined by him in the declaration”.

The statement says in making the declaration, Mutharika complied with Section 32 of the Act and as required by that provision, the declaration was published in the Gazette as Government Notice No. 4 in the Malaŵi Gazette Supplement of 3rd April, 2020.

“Further, the Ministry wishes to state that the Disaster Preparedness and Relief Act does not preclude the President, as head of State and Government, from announcing any of the extraordinary measures as are necessary to assist and protect persons affected or likely to be affected by the disaster so declared,” says the statement.

Delivering his ruling on the inter partes application of Chinese nationals Lin Xiaoxiao, Liu Zhigin, Wang Xia, Tian Hongze and others, against their deportation, Justice Kenyata Nyirenda said the laws on the declaration of state of national disaster are archaic and cannot be applied in 2020.

“Honestly, the very thought of declaring a state of disaster without even bothering to tell Malawians the law under which the declaration is made is taking Malawians for granted,” he said.

Detention of the Chinese nationals followed President Peter Mutharika’s declaration that Malawi was a State of National Disaster in the face of Covid-19.

Justice Nyirenda said Malawi’s legislative regime governing Malawi’s response to disasters is not only archaic and obsolete but it is also in total shambles.

“Almost all, if not all, applicable laws are completely outdated. Needless to say, the Coronavirus epidemic has caught the authorities with their pants down. How the authorities expect to effectively combat the epidemic in 2020 with laws enacted in 1948 (Public Health Act), 1964 (Immigration Act) and 1991 (Disaster Preparedness and Relief Act) boggles my mind,” he said.

Lin Xiaoxiao, Liu Zhigin, Wang Xia, Tian Hongze and others were challenging their detention and imminent deportation to China as the state contended they come from a coronavirus hotspot nation.

Justice Nyirenda granted an ex parte injunction against the Department of Immigration before the matter was heard inter partes after the Department of Immigration and the Office of the Attorney General applied to have the injunction discharged.

In the ruling dated April 3, 2020 following the inter partes hearing, Justice Nyirenda sustained the injunction stopping the state from deporting the claimants.

Malawi has registered five cases of Covid-19, a diseases which has infected over 1 million people, killing over 60, 000 in the process.

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