By Antony Mbugua and Sharon Ndinda
Following the global outbreak and spread of the novel Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) many states have been constrained to deploy measures aimed at mitigating the negative effects occasioned by the pandemic. So far, Kenya has reported 715 Covid -19 cases which number is expected to rise over the next few weeks with the continued mass testing of the population. In a bid to contain the virus, the Government of Kenya has enforced certain measures including a partial lockdown of some businesses, a nation-wide curfew and travel restrictions to and from various counties which have recorded a high number of positive COVID-19 cases. As such, Covid-19 has not only affected the health of Kenyans but has also led to a great disruption of businesses and subsequently the Kenyan economy.
Given the unprecedented nature of Covid-19, Kenya, like so many other counties across the world, was not sufficiently prepared to deal with the devastating effects of the pandemic. As such the government has been forced to adopt a reactive approach to dealing with some of the unique effects of the pandemic.
It is in these circumstances that the Senate created an ad hoc committee chaired by Nairobi County Senator Hon. Johnson Sakaja to look into the pandemic and come up with ways through which the government can deal with the health and economic issues brought about by Covid- 19. The Ad-hoc Committee proposed to legislate the Pandemic Response and Management Bill, 2020 which seeks to ensure that Kenyans are cushioned from the negative financial impact of the pandemic. The Bill was debated by Parliament and has been forwarded to the President for assenting. It is pending assenting.
The objects of the Bill are threefold:
- To provide a framework for the coordinated approach in the response and management of activities during a pandemic;
- To provide temporary relief from the inability to perform contractual obligations where the inability is caused by a pandemic; and
- To provide temporary measures to address various matters during a pandemic.
The Bill has made a good attempt in providing a framework for the effective response and management of a pandemic. The Bill has sought to address some of the pressing concerns owing to the pandemic such as employment, loans and mortgages, tenancy and care for vulnerable groups and created relevant institutions.
However, there are a few sectors that have not been addressed such as remote learning in the education sector which has been a subject for debate in the last few months. Further, even though the Bill has attempted to provide economic safeguards for vulnerable groups, there is no provision for identifying and profiling these vulnerable groups into social safety net programmes. The Bill also takes a suggestive as opposed to a mandatory approach on certain key issues such as loans and mortgages. This, in our view, is a risky affair as the likelihood of compliance is significantly diluted.
Additionally, the Bill is silent on catering for the hospital bills and quarantine facilities for vulnerable groups and even more concerning cases of police brutality which has been on the rise since the pandemic began. However, the Bill gives the Cabinet Secretary the mandate to make regulations and any relevant rules or standards as may be required with regards to the pandemic.
Given the fact that the Bill touches on multiple sectors such as the financial services sector, the legal services sector and others, there is need for thorough consultation with representatives from the stakeholders within those sectors. We also feel that there is a need to get more input from economic experts who have raised criticisms with the Bill.
For further details on the bill, kindly click on the links below which explain salient provisions of the bill.
Declaration of a Pandemic by the President
The National and County Pandemic Response Committees
The Pandemic Response Fund
The Provision of Tax Incentives
Loans and Mortgages
Penalties and Offences