The government has been empowered to call a state of emergency to address a public health crisis – such as the ongoing coronavirus outbreak – through a law which was rushed through parliament today.
This provision was not included in the original bill presented today, which primarily seeks to strengthen and consolidate the powers granted to the Superintendent of Public Health, but was added by government in committee. Though it is up to the President to call a state of emergency – for any reason in which this would apply – this is done on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Health Minister Chris Fearne noted that this was particularly relevant given the present situation, but on behalf of the opposition, MP Jason Azzopardi expressed his concerns.
He said that the opposition would not object “in light of the extraordinary circumstances,” but urged the government to follow up the provision with regulations which would keep “this draconian power” in check.
“The law empowers the Prime Minister to act as emperor,” Azzopardi maintained. “So let us be careful. The way to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Though all other clauses in the bill were approved unanimously in committee, this clause was an exception, with Azzopardi asking Deputy Speaker Claudette Buttigieg to declare this amendment “carried.”
Government challenged to takeover Steward Healthcare hospitals
Azzopardi referred to the provision again during an adjournment speech this evening, in which he challenged the government to use emergency powers to take over the three public hospitals managed by Steward Healthcare.
The MP said that it was shameful that the company was receiving €190,000 a day despite failing to invest a single cent, while the government will now end up spending “many millions” on a prefabricated hospital.
He emphasised that emergency powers would give the government the authority to take control of the hospitals, before challenging the government to state whether it was ready to do so.
In his speech, Azzopardi also noted that PN leader Adrian Delia had filed a court case to seek the rescission of the contract. He said that he was certain that the case would be won, “as this contract is corrupt.”
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