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    SoE standoff: Federal vs regional

    The House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) has approved a five-month long State of Emergency (SoE) decree, on April 10, 2020, which would be applicable across the nation, with the aim of strengthening the country’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

    In its extraordinary session, convened in the conference hall at the Office of the Prime Minister – the first time in which the parliament changed venue – MPs debated on the draft bill of the decree. The draft was tabled by the Office of the Prime Minister three days after it was endorsed by the Council of Ministers (CoM).

    The House voted to approve the proclamation with only one MP abstaining.

    Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Tigrai Regional State has also taken steps to extend its own SoE, which it has passed weeks ago, while a nation-wide decree was expected to be tabled before lawmakers.

    Ethiopia’s CoM on Wednesday declared the state of emergency for five months in a bid to halt the increasing threat from COVID-19, which came weeks after the Tigrai regional administration passed an SoE decree of its own to last for a period of 21 days, which it extended to three months.

    To date, Tigrai is the first and only regional power to issue a decree to control the fast spread of the virus at the regional level. This has, inevitably, sparked debate regarding the applicability of the two decrees and the potential implications to virus-combating efforts.

    Accordingly, an explanatory note attached to the proclamation, distributed to MPs prior to the ratification process, attempts to entertain this political standoff. The document, while acknowledging that regional states do retain constitutionally guaranteed mandate to enact a state of emergency decree within their territory, also contends that such right is designated to natural disasters or other issues that are threats to public health in the region, and do not and cannot be extended to national problems; let alone a global pandemic.

    On top of that, the document, argues that it is only appropriate to mount a national and unified defense against a threat like COVID-19 to minimize human and economic cost of the outbreak.

    Furthermore, the note ascertains that any and all laws, regulations, decisions and law enforcement entities, federal or regional, are expected not to contravene the SoE decree.                       

    The decree is also applicable on Ethiopians and foreign nationals residing in or transiting through Ethiopia.

    According to the same decree, the CoM will provide details of the suspension of rights and measures to be adopted to counter and mitigate the humanitarian, social, economic and political damage that could be caused by the pandemic.

    In addition, the detailed conditions will be decided by the Council or a Ministerial Committee to be established for this purpose and notified to the public.

    Nevertheless, the regulations to be enacted and measures to be taken by the CoM shall not in any way infringe upon the fundamental rights protected by the FDRE Constitution, it states.

    Furthermore, in addition to the decree, MPs have also endorsed a Seven-member State of Emergency inquiry board with a majority vote, 12 against and 5 abstaining.

    Members of the board include Petros Woldesenbet (Chairperson) and Tesfaye Daba (Deputy Chairperson). Other members of the Board are Fantaye Wendim, Shikuri Mehadin, Biruk Lapiso (PhD), Momina Mohammed and Beshala Gemech.

    Ethiopia has so far confirmed 65 novel coronavirus cases and two deaths, while there are fears the virus may spread faster in the coming days and weeks across the country.

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