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EI 164 enforcement blues

Thu, 2 Jul 2020 Source: Samuel Alesu-Dordzi

The President, by his latest executive instrument (E.I 164), has now made it compulsory for all persons to wear face masks in public spaces. The law is clear in some respects. And blurred in some respects.

In one breathe, the law is clear when it requires a person stepping out of or returning to their homes to put on a face mask. In another breath, there is a blurred line. The key one is what constitutes a public space.

This is important because the law requires persons in public spaces to wear their face mask. This has set a number of tongues wagging about whether a person who is alone in his air-conditioned vehicle is required to wear a mask.

We don’t have an answer yet. The last I heard, the Information Minister indicated that they were consulting with the Police in order to have the personal car issue cleared up.

So, for now, this is how things stand. Fail to wear the face mask and here is your fate: (a) a fine between GH¢12, 000 and GH¢60,000; and (b) between four to 10 years in jail. You even risk being served a cocktail of a fine and jail time.

And the sanction regime under this particular law has also got many people talking. But what are the implications of such a steep sanction regime?

First, few can afford to pay between GHS¢12, 000 to GH¢60,000 as a fine. This point goes without saying. Income levels are generally low, and many already struggle to eke out a living.

It is unimaginable the number of people who can afford this. That leaves the majority of the “fellow Ghanaians” with the second option: jail term of between four to 10 years.

Unfortunately, crowded cells and prisons is the last thing we need at the moment. If there is anything that we have learnt from the nature of our prisons, it is that the prison can be a very potent ground for the spread of the virus.

Secondly, there is little evidence to suggest that harsh sanctions ensure compliance. Remember, the same sanctions were in force during the lockdown, and it did not stop people from crossing townships just to buy high-grade gari.

Putting the sanctions so high makes people shrug their shoulders. And if the level of non-compliance with the President’s directive is anything to go by, then we should expect townships being arrested for flouting this particular directive.

Thirdly, the EI will only empower and enrich corrupt police officers. After all, you cannot pay the fine and you don’t want to go to jail. So, what do you do? Cut a deal. Pay a bribe and go home quietly as you do not want to contract the disease.

This may, at first blush, be seen as an unintended consequence of the EI. But a close look at it, however, suggests that anytime too much power is concentrated into the hand of a person or institution, the likelihood of an abuse is almost always guaranteed.

And fourthly, what about those who cannot even afford to cut a deal? They are certainly going to through a rough time with the police and at the end of the day, they will be left with feeling that they are the real targets of the law.

The equal application of this particular law is going to be a challenge. It is not your everyday law. It is special in nature. It is the kind of law that requires so many people to comply at the same time. And it is not easy to enforce such a law.

Columnist: Samuel Alesu-Dordzi