As the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 are on the rise in Maldives, the demand for isolation or quarantine facilities are also increasing. According to the HPA, more than 25 facilities with over 6100 beds are being used as isolation/quarantine facilities currently. Most of these facilities are resorts and hotels, as they are temporarily closed due to pandemic.
Maldives will open borders for tourists from July 2020. Which means that the resorts that are currently being used for quarantine will start to prepare for reopening. If so, what will happen to the quarantine facilities? Will there be a shortage of quarantine facilities?
The Health Ministry has recently announced that private buildings can be turned into isolation or quarantine facilities if government requires additional facilities. According to the law, private buildings can be taken over and used as isolation or quarantine facilities for a maximum duration of one year by the government.
The Health Minister’s announcement turned out to be quite controversial. A Managing Director of an insurance broker agency said that it is not appropriate for government to use private buildings to accommodate patients with highly contagious diseases and it may worsen the situation. He added, “There are not enough buildings in Male’ city area to accommodate as quarantine facilities”.
Speaking to Corporate Maldives, a private building owner in Hulhumale’ said Male’ City was too congested and such a strategy might not be possible given the current situation of Male’ City.
“There are no free buildings in Male’ City that can be used for quarantine purpose,” he said.
Ibrahim Riffath, Attorney General of Maldives supported the Health Minister’s statement and said that Maldives Constitution (No 2012/7, Article No 37) allows Ministers to expropriate private buildings if required and use them as quarantine or isolation facilities during a pandemic. Several lawyers and government officials argued and discussed the issue online on social media.
According to lawyer Ismail Wisham from Wisham & Co, Article 40 of our Constitution, protecting peoples’ personal property qualifies for it by allowing government to expropriate with fair compensation. Meaning our right to property under the Constitution is not absolute, it’s qualified. Moreover, Article 16 says we can limit fundamental liberties provided, it’s via a statute passed by the Parliament that is in line with ‘practices of open democratic states’. If Parliament passes that government can expropriate, then the process is perfectly lawful in Maldives
Jaufar Easa Adam, Founder & Chairman of Jausa Construction Maldives Pvt. Ltd. and JAAH Pvt Ltd said that the headline confused most people and that it’s important to read the article to get an idea of what it really means. According to him this is a good initiative and it is for one year, and is in its planning stage. Certain rules should be formulated, brainstormed and analyzed accordingly, he said, adding that the Government has the power to take any household, resort or a property depending on the matter of seriousness as it is mentioned in the Maldivian law.
“For instance, a 12-room house in an island could be taken by government just to house 4 individuals,” he explained. “Which is absurd and a waste of resources. Thus, restrictions and measures should be in place to protect it. Therefore, it is important to understand the entire topic and base rationale than just reading the headline.”
During times of war, and pandemics such as COVID-19, governments all over the world have the power across different types of legal systems, to ‘expropriate’ private property and businesses temporarily or permanently. Recently in USA, President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to aid companies building ventilators for coronavirus patients to receive the supply of materials they need.
According to lawyers, Maldivian constitution allows government to take over private buildings and use it a quarantine or isolation facility. However, the government’s plan to execute this law is heavily dependent on the pandemic situation in the country.