What you need to know:
- While President Museveni had previously ordered that violators of Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) would be compelled to pay fines as opposed to jail terms, in the new statutory instrument issued on July 1, Dr Aceng proposes a two-month jail term and doesn’t provide other options for the offenders.
The decision to jail or fine people who violate lockdown rules and other Covid-19 safety protocols has sparked uproar, with human rights defenders and sections of the public accusing government officials of scandalising the fight against the pandemic.
In the amended Public Health (Control of Covid-19) rules, 2021, Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng has proposed a two-month jail sentence for people who violate Covid guidelines, even as it emerged that her counterpart in the Ministry of Finance, has sent proposed fines to the Health ministry for consideration.
An inter-ministerial team led by the Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Patrick Ocailap, finalised a cocktail of Covid-19 fines last week but got stuck after the Solicitor General guided that the Public Health Act is a mandate of the Ministry of Health.
The Finance ministry has since forwarded the proposed fines to the Ministry of Health.
Sources close to the Finance docket told Sunday Monitor that the proposed fines were graded according to three categories of offences - normal, moderate, and severe.
A normal offence would, for instance, be one of not wearing a face mask and a first-time offender would be fined same amount regardless of his or her income status.
Operating or entering a pub/ nightclub or any other businesses that are banned from operating under the ongoing 42-day lockdown, would result in a higher fine as this has been categorised as a severe offence.
The proposed fines were proposed as a key measure to decongest prison facilities across the country and reduce the risk of Covid-19 infections among prisoners.
While President Museveni had previously ordered that violators of Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) would be compelled to pay fines as opposed to jail terms, in the new statutory instrument issued on July 1, Dr Aceng proposes a two-month jail term and doesn’t provide other options for the offenders.
Finance spokesperson Jim Mugunga yesterday confirmed that “The Ministry of Finance, working closely with other key sectors, including the Solicitor General, has already put on record and duly advised the Ministry of Health to expeditiously implement what it is legally mandated to do.”
Mr Mugunga reiterated that “As far as I am aware, the next steps fully depend on how fast the Ministry of Health acts to adopt the recommended advice and come up with the required Cabinet Paper. This is needed before amendments are approved for onward submission to Parliament. We are aware that this can be fast tracked....other agencies of government are ready to enforce through ticket link with police, NIRA and offenders. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Finance is not the lead agency to enable this process beyond what has been done.”
Reactions from the public
Ms Hellena Okiring, a city human rights defender, has criticised the decision to jail violators of SOPs in the midst of a deadly pandemic, accusing government of militarising the Covid-19 response and proposed that the focus be put on civic education to boost compliance.
“We have militarised the approach to fight a public health problem. Harassing people and putting them in jail defeats the whole purpose of saving lives by doing things which anger the public,” Ms Okiring said.
“Educate people about the problem of Covid-19 and find a constructive way of engaging offenders. Reward those exhibiting exemplary behaviour in as far as observing SOPs is concerned. The situation will definitely get better.”
Edward Otto Makmot, an advocate also questioned the two-month jail term and proposed that in a pandemic, sending people to prison should be the last resort. Others who talked to Sunday Monitor called the decision a “blunder” and wondered whether government understands the gravity of the current space crisis in prisons.
What some stakeholders say...
Olive Namazzi, KCCA Health minister, “I have no problem with the penalties but the issue would be when officers impose them selectively and leave out the big fish found violating them. Imprisonment is not sustainable. Our detention centres don’t have the ability to detain people and observe the social distancing guideline.”
Derrick Nyeko, Shadow Security minister, “In a situation where the government cannot give relief to people, it does not have the moral audacity to arrest vendors trying to fend for themselves. There are some laws that cannot work and we know some of our people will go against them. And shall be with them on this.”
Harold Kaija, FDC party deputy secretary general, “Right now people are locked up in their houses in Kampala. They were locked up without notice, without food they cannot cross to their villages. If government had played its part of the bargain, we would also agree with all those stringent measures.”
Luke Owoyesigire, Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, “We have been doing it [making arrests] and we will continue. We have been taking people to jail on charges of doing a negligent act. It is the magistrate’s discretion whether to fine or convict you. Ours is to investigate and forward the files.”
Dr Charles Olaro, director, Curative Services, Ministry of Health, “It is not the intention of government to fine or imprison anybody. It is just trying to tell people to change behaviour and do the right thing. Do the right thing.”
Doreen Nyanjura, Kampala Deputy Lord Mayor, “Before coming up with those penalities, we need alternatives in place. There are people who have nothing to eat, The [relief] money they are giving is only a drop in the ocean. People are frustrated and that is why they will go against those guidelines.”
Serve jail for two months
1. Not wearing a mask outside one’s residence
2. Hawking and vending masks, fruits, etc
3. Selling non-food items in any market
4. Boda bodas carrying passengers
5. Conducting marriages, vigil or funeral with more than 20 people
6. Defying curfew
7. Hosting house parties
8. Holding political meetings
9. Opening salons
10. Operating schools, institutions of higher learning
11. Operating in Kikuubo business centre in Kampala, shopping arcades, shopping malls.
Places, activities closed indefinitely
A person who operates a place or premises or who conducts any activity or event specified in sub-rule commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment not exceeding two months.
(a) Operating bars, night clubs, discotheques and cinema halls
(b) Conducting prayers in open spaces, outside churches and mosques
(c) Conducting seminars, workshops, conferences and cultural-related meetings
(d) Indoor and outdoor concerts and indoor sports events
(e) Pre-primary schools; and
(f) Gymnasiums and massage parlours.
Premises, business allowed to operate
1-Restaurants premised in hotels
2-Restaurants located in hotels to offer takeaway services
3-Retail shops outside shopping malls and shopping arcades
4-Motor repair garages and metal fabricator workshops
5-Markets for the sale of food items
6-Shops dealing in agricultural chemicals and seeds, veterinary drugs and detergents
8-Supermarkets and premises in (2), (6) and (7) located inside shopping malls, and arcades
9-Factories and construction sites
10-Places of worship where people gathered don’t exceed 20 in number (conduct weddings)
11-Marriage ceremonies, weding parties, vigils and funerals permitted where people don’t exceed 20 in number
12-Cabinet, Parliament and local government, Judicial, proceedings