PARLIAMENT ADJOURNMENT IS ABOUT THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF ALL

I welcome all those who are here today for this important press conference. Thank you for your time. I have called this press conference to speak to the nation plainly about our parliamentary processes and why it was important that we adjourned parliament yesterday.

Following the conclusion of parliamentary business, Parliament arose, and adjourned to 10th August 2021 at 10am. It is important to note that this happened only after Parliament ensured that its required business was concluded. Important business including the passage of the National Energy Act 2020 and the Electricity Amendment Act was concluded. Parliament also received an important statement from the Treasurer on the State of the Economy. The Treasurer noted in his statement that COVID-19 is both a fight for the economy, as well as a medical fight. There are enormous challenges in implementing the 2021 Budget, and there are serious shortfalls in revenue collection. There are also procurement challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which have affected the implementation of key projects which are designed to help stimulate economic activities.

He had pointed out the need to, on the one hand, address clearly the spread of the virus, but to do so responsibly so that the economy does not suffer. This is a responsible Government making sure that at a bare minimum, the elements of Government continue to tick over, and that there is genuine effort to address the spread of the virus. He called for urgent and responsible leadership at all levels of the Government to ensure that the effort is coordinated. It must be about taking responsibility of maintaining a critical balance.  

Yesterday afternoon, when I took to the floor of Parliament, I was concerned about the state of play in the country as far as COVID-19 was concerned. I said that since the first index case detected on 23rd March 2020, the cases as of yesterday are at 10,338 cases, with 99 deaths recorded so far, an increase of eight deaths since Tuesday. I noted that positivity rate is now running at 25 per cent, case fatality at 5 per cent. It means that if we ramp up on testing, we expect to see at least 25 per cent of the testing population to be positive and of those positive cases, at least 5 per cent of them will die, if this trajectory is maintained. This is no longer a matter to ignore.

Hospital capacities are now overwhelmed and the cases show no signs of relenting. I called for a total and complete leadership attention to this matter. I appealed to those who have ambition to be Ministers or Prime Minister to place those ambitions at the back burner and to rally with the Government to address in totality the raging pandemic before us. The safety of our people is at stake while we worry about our own interest.

I also was very concerned earlier in the day, when the Parliament Speaker, Job Pomat, presented a situation report for Parliament. I noted with utmost concern that 42 Parliament staff have tested positive for COVID-19 from that report. Indeed, there has been a related death, and members of its leadership have been infected. Parliament is now a red zone. These are people who provide direct and indirect chamber services. They have the potential to come in direct with a carrier of the virus and the rest may be come history. I am concerned that this poses a direct risk to the health and safety of our elected leaders, many of whom are at a demographic category that is vulnerable. It is also dangerous to the families of both staff as well as the leadership of this country.

As the Prime Minister of our country, I am not willing to sacrifice the health of our elected leaders while at the same time observe the Parliamentary process that can pose immediate and real danger to our MPs, their staff and families. I have rallied members of Parliament on both sides of the house to take this threat seriously, and to ensure that our safety is not compromised.

In that regard, it was incumbent upon the Government with its numbers, to exercise care and responsibility to ensure that all members of Parliament, from both sides of the house, are protected from the potential spread of the virus. He noted that while the Controller has classified these workers as essential workers for the purpose of the Pandemic Act 2020, the physical risk of potential outbreak in Parliament can never be underestimated. This action is in the interest of all who sit in Parliament and all who work in Parliament. It is not about the Government and the Opposition, it is about all of us human beings, who a susceptible to the virus. We have taken responsibility because we have to be responsible for lives, including lives of politicians. Parliament in its debate confronted directly the loss of the former Member for Kerema to the virus. 

I also noted that Parliament debated the update on COVID-19 and its impact on the economy, both domestically and internationally. At the end of formal business in Parliament the Deputy Speaker, followed by the Speaker, allowed time for Members of Parliament to debate the COVID-19 issues and statements made by the Prime Minister, the Treasury and various leaders. I have noted strong support from members of Parliament about the leadership that Parliament needs to take on the pandemic.

Of note, leaders like Governors Allan Bird, Pais Wingti, Powes Parkop and Dr. Puka Temu spoke strongly and with wisdom about Parliament taking leadership in the fight against COVID-19 because our national security is at stake. Governor Wingti said leaders should take leadership in ensuring that large gatherings are avoided. He was very vocal about the extra ordinary times we are in and the need for leadership at all levels to be working together on measures to fight the spread of the virus. Governor Parkop had said that indeed convening Parliament in itself was against the directives which have already been issued pertaining to gatherings with less than 50 people in assembly, and that although as an institution, Parliament was constitutionally independent, the seriousness of the pandemic should warrant the Speaker take extreme precaution. Governor Parkop noted that with the prevailing challenges should be about preventing its spread because once infections reach a high level, the medical capacity we currently have will not be able to cope with those challenges.

I have noted specifically the appeal by the Minister for Communication who wanted to make sure that the State services such as NBC are fully empowered and supported to carry the correct information to our people about this virus and the measures which are important to save theirs and their families lives.

I have challenged leaders at all levels to use the down time to address serious pandemic measures in their own electorates and districts. Our people also need to be informed correctly on these issues and therefore it is for all of us to work together on address any information disconnect that exist in the country. It is not about politics