Posted in Legislative Research on Apr 10, 2020
Governments around the world are taking a wide variety of different approaches to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. Websites such as this one provide a good overview of different approaches. To successfully prevent and control any communicable disease, all pillars of government - executive, legislature, judiciary – plus the news media, have an important role to play. In this essay, I will describe how the executive branch of the Myanmar Government has prepared, and is responding, to the current pandemic – chiefly by forming committees, issuing local orders and using existing laws relating to the prevention and control of communicable diseases.
The first committee was formed by the Office of the President on 30th January to respond to the potential spread of COVID-19 in Myanmar. Named the Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), it is chaired by the Minister for International Cooperation, and co-chaired by the Minister for Health and Sports. The responsibilities of the Committee are to coordinate the activities of different Union Ministries and various other departments including at township and regional level; to raise awareness about the disease; to monitor the situation regarding the disease and make real-time measurements to ensure accurate information is provided to the public through the media.
However, that central Committee was later substituted by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Containment and Emergency Response Committee, chaired by Vice-President U Myint Swe, on 30th March. The duties of this committee are to identify and quarantine positive patients and close contacts; to ensure community quarantine is strictly carried out; to punish those who produce and spread fake news; to identify merchants selling medicine, food and other consumer products at hiked prices; and to perform other duties assigned by the National-Level Central Committee.
Before the above committee was created, on 13th March the Office of the President also had created two new Committees to response the COVID-19 pandemic. One was the National-Level Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) headed by the State Counsellor, and another was a Working Committee to address the Economic Impact of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) headed by the Minister for Investment and Foreign Economic Relations.
Below this array of national committees, there are 15 Working Committees associated with the Naypyidaw Council, Regions and States, and there are also district-level and township-level working committees which are being created based on the guidelines of the National-level Central Committee.
We have found that Regional Orders are being issued at two levels of governments, namely by Region and State governments, or at township level by the local General Administration Department (GAD) around the country. In these Regional Orders released by the township-level administration, there are procedures for punishment for anyone who in breach of the orders. These procedures can be applied using Penal Code, Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law and Natural Disaster Management Law.
The most relevant laws being applied during the COVID-19 pandemic are the Natural Disaster Management Law, the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law and the Essential Supplies And Services Law. Other laws such as the Burma Immigration Act, Registration of Foreigners Act and some articles of the Penal Code are also being used during this pandemic period.
Natural Disaster Management Law (2013)
The government is currently using three sections of this law, and all offences are categorised as recognisable offences.
The first section being used during this period is Section 26, which seeks to punish anyone who interferes, prevents or prohibits any natural disaster management response undertaken by the assigned department, organisation and person, including through assault or coercion of some kind. Those found guilty can be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or with a fine, or both.
The second section being used is Section 27 which is targeted at anyone who misinforms the public about a natural disaster to spread fear. Those found guilty can, on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or fine, or both. The final relevant section is the Section 30. Sub-section (a) states that a deliberate failure to comply with any directives of any department, organisation or person assigned by this Law to perform natural disaster management duties shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or fine, or both.
Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law (1995)
According to Section 14 of this Law an organisation or an officer on whom power is conferred by the Ministry of Health may issue prohibitive or restrictive orders. Those orders are related to:
- (a) the right of the person suffering from the Disease to leave and return to his house;
- (b) the right of people living in the house, ward, village or township infected by the Disease to leave and return;
- (c) if there is a person suffering from Principal Epidemic Disease among those people arriving by train, motor vehicle, aircraft, vessel or any other vehicle;
- (d) during the time of fair and festival, right of the public to visit the site and right to continue the festival.
Whoever violates prohibitive or restrictive orders issued by the relevant organisation or officer under Section 14 shall, on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with a fine which may extend to kyats 50,000, or both.
The Essential Supplies and Services Law (2012)
Section 4, Sub-section (a) of this Law allows any Ministry of the Union Government to issue prohibiting orders, regulating orders, supervision orders, preventing orders and other necessary orders on matters relating to import, export, trade, possession, storage, transport, distribution, utilisation and consumption; regarding any goods stipulated and declared as essential goods. Whoever violates any order issued under Section 4 shall, on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term between six months and three years, and shall also be liable to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand Kyats. All these cases are regarded as recognisable offences.
**Notification No. 21/2020** The Ministry of Commerce issued this notification on 30th March 2020, exercising its power set out The Essential Supplies and Services Law. This notification covers: (a) Health aid equipment for prevention, control and treatment of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (b) Medicines and; (c) Consumer goods The order bans speculation in the market by selling and distributing these products (known as ‘price gouging’), or the storage of these products with the intention of playing the market.
Other Laws which are also being used by the Union Government are Section 13, Sub-section (1) of the Burma Immigration Act (1947); Section 5, Sub-section (1) of Registration of Foreigners Act (1940); and Sections 294 and 353 of Penal Code.
Recent Court Cases
One American Citizen (Myanmar ethnic origin) in Tamu Township, Sagaing Region, has been sentenced to six months for holding a wedding reception after receiving a warning letter in accordance with the Section 30, Sub-section (a) of the Natural Disaster Management Law, and has been sentenced to six months or fined 1 million Kyats for breaching the Visa regulation in accordance with the Section 13, Sub-section (1) of Burma Immigration Act. The father of that person has also been sentenced to six months or fined 1 million Kyats for breaching Section 5(1) of the Registration of Foreigners Act.
Two men from Tada-U Township, Mandalay Region and Yatarshay Township, Bago Region were also charged under the Natural Disaster Management Law. The former is charged under Section 26 due to him assaulting a Village Health Committee member with a brick while the committee was conducting health screenings of returnees from overseas. The latter is charged under Section 27 with writing fake news on social media claiming there are COVID-19 positive patients among the villagers.
A returnee who absconded from a 14 days quarantine centre in Lay Myat Nar Township in Ayeyarwady Region was sentenced to three months under Section 14 of the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law.
A person from Mogoke Township in Mandalay Region was charged under Sections 294/353 of the Penal Code for refusing to allow a healthcare team to check their temperature and for trying to assault and abuse a member of Red Cross staff.
Written by Moe Aung