SAA allegedly attempting an UIF retrenchment bailout by stealth

It has come to the attention of the Democratic Alliance (DA) that South African Airways (SAA) Business Rescue Practitioners, Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, may intend to have the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) pay out SAA’s retrenchment packages. This comes as a precursor to the long-awaited retrenchments of the bloated SAA staff.

The DA will therefore write to Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, to request clarity on their intentions with regard to obtaining UIF funding to pay retrenched staff the payments that would be due to them from SAA.

If there is any truth to these rumours, it would mean that Matuson and Dongwana are trying to provide SAA with another bailout by stealth – because these packages fall outside of the mandate of the UIF and should be paid by SAA itself.

The UIF does have an obligation to meet the legislated unemployment payments that would become necessary should SAA members of staff be retrenched.

However, this would exclude the retrenchment benefits required in law to be paid by the employer, in this case, SAA.

These employer benefits would amount to a considerable amount of money and as SAA is under business rescue, would not be guaranteed (although section 16 of the Companies Act does provide protection for such employee claims whilst SAA is under business rescue). Employee claims would get preferential status in a liquidation of SAA.

Government’s reaction to Foot & Mouth Disease has caused far more damage than the disease itself

As part of my real state of the nation tour, I conducted an oversight visit to a cattle auction pen in Bela-Bela, Limpopo earlier this week. This auction pen, like so many others across the country, has been severely affected by government’s poor initial response to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the province, followed by a complete overreaction in the form of a nation-wide ban on livestock gathering and auctions.

I have today written to the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, to request that she report to Parliament, within 21 days, on her plan of action to fight the disease, which should include revoking this ban in areas not affected. (Please find letter attached here)

While the reason given for the ban sounds noble – to combat the spread of the disease – government has effectively taken a sledgehammer to a situation that required a scalpel. And in the process they have caused great damage to everyone who earns a living from South Africa’s red meat industry.

Managing a Foot & Mouth Disease outbreak properly is a long and detailed process. If you don’t do it right, the consequences can be devastating. What happened here in Limpopo, when Foot and Mouth was detected at an auction pen near Polokwane, was a textbook example of what not to do. After the initial quarantine and testing, government should have immediately embarked on a programme of disinfecting farms, vehicles and equipment in the area. They didn’t, and so it fell to the farmers themselves to do government’s work, at their own expense.

Government should also have kept tight control of the movement of livestock through road blocks, which they didn’t do either. And this is where a small, controlled outbreak very quickly becomes a crisis.

But the biggest damage was wrought in the poor handling of the previous Foot and Mouth outbreak, back in 2018. If that had been managed properly, and for the entire 6 month duration as is prescribed, the disease would have been contained. Instead, as is the case with almost every ANC government project, a lack of finances meant an early end to the rehabilitaion period. Unable to pay staff overtime, the road blocks and transport restrictions were lifted way too early in 2019. Someone took advantage of these cut corners and brought infected cattle in, and what followed was probably the largest outbreak we have seen in SA.

I just want to say here that if it weren’t for the incredible efforts of the farmers who shouldered all the responsibility and all the costs of containing this outbreak, we would have been in a far, far worse situation. All the sprays, vaccinations and medicines had to come from their own pockets, not to mention the cost of the cattle that had to be slaughtered. The men and women of these farming communities were pro-active and unselfish, and many of them suffered great financial setbacks in the process. Our country owes them a debt of gratitude.

Throughout all of this, government was conspicuous in its absense. Only when the metaphorical horse had already bolted, did they spring into action and issue a nation-wide prohibition on the movement of split-hooved cattle and game – a move that has been widely criticised as irrational and heavy-handed. This ban has had a disastrous effect on trade with our SADC neighbours, and government now has a huge task in trying to rebuild trust and restore credibility.

Among the hardest hit have been small scale and subsistence farmers, who can’t absorb the costs and who don’t always have the technology to access the online auctions that have replaced the traditional auctions while the transport prohibition is in place. For them, all business has ground to a halt. There have also been reports of farmworkers being laid off for months on farms that cannot operate under the prohibition.

By all accounts, government’s belated response to this situation has been completely inappropriate and has wreaked havoc in the industry. It is for this reason that a group of more than fifty emerging farmers decided to take legal action to force Minister Didiza to lift the nationwide ban on livestock gathering and auctions in areas of the country not affected. Which is most of South Africa.

The DA fully supports this court action. Farmers are still struggling to contend with the crippling drought that has hit most provinces, not to mention the constant threat of property expropriation that hangs over their heads. The last thing they need is for government to place even more obstacles in their way. What they do need is a government that understands the massive challenges in running successful farming operations – a government that can partner with them.

What they also need is a government that can protect its own people and their interests through proper borders and border control. The role that our porous borders play in the spread of Foot and Mouth cannot be overstated. When infected animals can cross at will from Zimbabwe and Mozambique through broken or non-existent fences, it becomes near impossible to contain the disease.

And speaking of neighbouring countries, it must also be noted that while a country like Botswana is known for Foot and Mouth Disease, their government response is such that the disease rarely affects their export market. Here in South Africa, however, our government’s poor response has a massively adverse affect on our exports.

I’m sure Minister Didiza was fully aware of what the correct response should have been. And even if she wasn’t, the World Organisation for Animal Health has set out clear guidelines on how to respond to such a situation. According to these guidelines, it was the state’s responsibility to disinfect all farms and vehicles in the affected region; to create visible policing in order to monitor the movement of livestock and enforce the quarantine; to allocate a budget with which to fight the disease; to conduct routine inoculations; and to inform police authorities to take steps to combat the spread of the disease.

Government did none of these things. Instead it dithered until it was too late, and then chose a totally irrational course of action that has caused immense disruption and financial loss to all who make a living in this sector. Some estimate the losses suffered since this prohibition was announced to run as high as R10 billion.

What needs to happen now is a proper costing of the impact of government’s mishandling of the situation so that there can be financial reparations. The farming community cannot be expected to simply absorb these losses brought about by government’s failure to do its job.

It is now of utmost importance that government prevents any further damage by immediately revoking the nation-wide ban and letting farmers do their jobs. Those areas that are disease-free must get a certificate to operate, and those that are still affected must get all the assistance they need from government. And this includes compensation for the massive losses incurred by some of the farmers.

DA rejects COSATU’s anti-worker Eskom bailout plan

The Democratic Alliance (DA) rejects outright a proposed plan by COSATU to ask the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) to avail R254 billion to clear half of Eskom’s debt. We will therefore write to the Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, and the acting PIC CEO, Vuyani Hako, challenging them to publicly reject the COSATU proposal, which would result in billions of Rands in state employee pension funds being redirected to bail out a collapsing and defunct Eskom.

COSATU’s purported conditions of this bailout proposal are that Eskom should not be privatised, no jobs should be lost and that the state should take a lead on renewable energy.

It is deeply misleading for COSATU to claim to fight for the rights of workers when in essence it is proposing to use workers’ money to bail out the ANC and reward its mismanagement of SOEs.

Workers should not be asked to shoulder a sinking Eskom ship that was looted by political elites and their proxies during the heydays of state capture.

The DA is on record stating that pension funds in the PIC should never be used to bailout failing SOEs. Minister Mboweni has an obligation to rise above tripartite alliance politics to stop the ANC from using the PIC as a piggy bank to subsidise state corruption.

There is no saving Eskom. If the PIC approves this R254 billion bailout to Eskom, state employee pensioners should consider it as a donation, as the money will never be recovered. Eskom has proved time and again that it is unable to pay its debts and has to rely on state bailouts to stay afloat.

Musina Speaker must be suspended

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the Mayor of Musina Municipality, Mihloti Muhlophe, to suspend the Speaker, Gilbert Netshisaulu, after he inharmoniously deferred two crucial reports which were suppose to have been debated and adopted by Council during an ordinary Council meeting that was held last week.

The Speaker has, for the second time since the end of last year, vehemently refused to include important reports on the agenda and deferred them to the next Council meeting claiming that the report being previously “deferred” does not mean that these reports should be included in the agenda.

It is clear that the Speaker is failing dismally to execute his duties in Council by not allowing Council to debate these reports which affect the lives of residents.

The first report that he did not want to add to the agenda relates to the impounding of animals that roam busy roads without any supervision. The DA considers this to be an urgent matter considering the danger being posed by stray animals on our roads.

Recently, there has been an increase in stray animals roaming freely around N1 road heading towards Beitbridge Boarder and Musina villages and especially at night. This poses a massive danger to all the motorists and road users.

The second report relates to the priority housing development areas. The DA feels that this report should also be given urgent attention considering that many community members are forced to stay in unsafe structures and backrooms due to the municipality’s failure to provide proper housing.

To compound the matter, there has been unlawful invasion of land by disgruntled community members. Still the Speaker does not see these matters as anything that warrants urgent attention.

It is clear that the Speaker is not capable to lead in this capacity and this will cause an unnecessary service delivery delays whilst increasing the current service delivery backlog in the municipality.

The DA urges the Mayor to take action against this inept Speaker and further requests that the Mayor ensures these reports are brought to Council in the next setting so they can be debated without any further delay.

DA calls for urgent Parliamentary committee meeting over Lottery corruption scandal  

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to the Chairperson of the Trade and Industry Portfolio Committee, Duma Nkosi requesting that an urgent committee meeting is held to get to the bottom of the corruption scandal which has consumed the National Lottery Commission (NLC) and threatens to derail it.

This follows further allegations by GroundUp that COO, Philemon Letwaba’s wife Rebottle Malomane scored R4.8 million in grant funding in 2017. Investigations have revealed that Malomane’s NGO, Zibsimanzi, a shelf company, received the grant without anything to show for it.

This latest revelation follows a litany of allegations of corruption against Letwaba which the NLC has failed to do anything about, all at the expense of deserving charities which have had their funds distributed to friends and family of Letwaba.

That is why the DA previously wrote to Trade and Industry Minister, Ibrahim Patel, urging him to fire the Board of the NLC, place it under administration and seek to have senior executives placed on suspension pending the outcome of a credible forensic audit. To date, we have not had any response from Minister Patel.

Next week, the Trade and Industry Committee will be on oversight in Gauteng and there will be no better opportunity to visit the scene of the crime at the NLC offices, call the Board, COO and Chairperson to a meeting and explain what is going on in order to make sense of the crisis and reassure South Africans that something is being done in the current vacuum being created by the Minister.

Since the Minister is unwilling to take action, it is incumbent on the portfolio committee to get to the bottom of this cesspool which has taken root in the NLC.

The DA will not relent until Minister Patel takes action against the NLC as well as ensuring that Parliament holds them accountable for these serious allegations. Its time that we grill Letwaba and the Chairperson and hold their feet to the fire in order to get answers from them.

Coronavirus: DA asks Minister Pandor to show leadership and intervene in chaos at Chinese Embassy 

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, to show leadership and urgently intervene in the current state of dysfunction at the South African Embassy in China. It has come to our attention that whilst officials at the Embassy are trying to hold the fort, the lack of an Ambassador’s presence or leadership from South Africa is hampering any hope of rescue or evacuation assistance in light of the outbreak of the Coronavirus.

The DA, through our international body, DA Abroad, has been in contact with over 100 South African citizens in China, many of them trapped in Wuhan. This, at a time when our Embassy has been closed due to the lunar New Year period. The 24 hour emergency DIRCO number has at times been unresponsive and where officials have responded the information has been too broad to give direction to citizens in the region.

The latest communication is that DIRCO will not evacuate South African citizens and that if citizens wish to leave they need to undergo a 14 day quarantine and then make their own way home. The DA is concerned that citizens are not pointed to the exact quarantine location and that no information is being offered in terms of available transport.

The Department has a minister and two deputy ministers and this would be an opportune time for one of them to show leadership and handle this crisis, especially in light of China being without an Ambassador. The Department needs to ensure that its mission is able to communicate and allay fears by providing clear and helpful communication and assistance at the same standard of other countries that have heeded the call. It is also important that we are in communication with the Department of Health to ensure that we have fail-safe screening for people returning from the region.

The DA has therefore also requested Minister Pandor to:

  1. Ensure a manned telephone number at DIRCO that will serve as an advice centre for South African citizens in China;
  2. Form a dedicated team to communicate and advise South Africans in the affected region;
  3. Ensure that staff at the Embassy endeavour to find ways and means to direct citizens to quarantine and to inform them of transportation choices to evacuate; and
  4. Keep citizens informed on how to minimise the risk of disease

The DA Abroad is willing to assist the Department to ensure that we can worth together to minimise the risk of disease and to facilitate the safe evacuation of any of our citizens seeking such assistance.

We understand that there are budget restraints and that this period has been chaotic. We are also sympathetic to the safety of our officials abroad and ask that they ensure that they take the necessary precautions to minimise the risk to themselves.

The Democratic Alliance will continue to offer assistance to DIRCO in this regard and take this opportunity to wish China a speedy resolution to this situation and full recovery to current patients with symptoms.

Development Bank gives SAA a taxpayer bailout disguised as a loan

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the Minister of Trade and Industry, Ibrahim Patel, to obtain full details of the reported loan of R3.5 billion that the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), a state-owned entity (SOE), has allegedly made available to SAA, another SOE. 

Given the fact that the Bank falls under the mandate of Minister Patel, the onus rests on him to come clean on the details of this loan.

This is simply a disguised taxpayer bailout of the bankrupt SAA and it takes money that should be invested by DBSA in real and sustainable development projects that will create jobs for the 10 million unemployed and largely destitute South Africans and throws it into the the bankrupt SAA black hole.

The loan from the DBSA is no better than the aborted attempt in 2015 by the then SAA Board Chaired by Dudu Myeni to get R15 billion from the Free State Development Corporation (FSDC). At the time, the FSDC was chaired by the sister of the then Free State Premier and current ANC Secretary General, Ace Magashule and it was rumored that she would have benefited personally from this funding deal.

This is the “payment by stealth” to SAA that the DA raised as a concern and which has now been confirmed. What has not been confirmed is:

  • the amount of the loan,
  • the conditions, if any, attached to the loan,
  • the interest payable on the loan,
  • what security SAA provided to the DBSA for the loan, and 
  • what the SAA repayment obligations for the loan are. 

The DBSA is an entity that has a developmental mandate that must exclude propping up a failed SOE such as SAA.

Public Protector’s comments once again demonstrates poor understanding of the law

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is not surprised by the statement delivered today by the Public Protector, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, which demonstrates once again that she has an exceptionally poor understanding of the law.

The public protector alleges that the recently-adopted National Assembly rules, which govern the process by which Parliament may remove the head of a Chapter 9 institution, are unconstitutional and unlawful. Among other things, she seems to be under the impression that Parliament’s duty to ensure that her office functions independently prohibits this institution from criticising her conduct or exercising its own constitutional powers to remove her.

Section 194 of the Constitution provides for the removal of the Public Protector or another head of a Chapter 9 institution on the grounds of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence. It provides for this removal to be done by way of a resolution of the National Assembly. The rules adopted by Parliament in December last year puts in place the rules in terms of which the National Assembly must conduct itself in the process of arriving at this resolution.

The DA believes that our motion, submitted and accepted in terms of the rules of the National Assembly, clearly sets out why Mkhwebane is not a fit and proper person to occupy the office of Public Protector, on the basis of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence.

The reality is that Mkhwebane has never enjoyed having her conduct scrutinised, and will fight tooth and nail to avoid being held accountable.

Mkhwebane’s latest statements only serve to prove how poor her understanding of the law is, underscoring the correctness of the DA’s call to have her removed as soon as due process allows.

Parliament can not and must not waiver in its commitment to proceed with the process it has set in motion. On our part, the DA certainly will not back down.

Schweizer-Reneke report distorted – DA to hold direct feedback meeting

Following a partial and distorted leak of the DA’s internal investigation into the Party’s mishandling of the Schweizer-Reneke incident last year, there has been a further attempt to manipulate the matter for political purposes.

A partial truth is often more dangerous than a deliberate lie, and this is definitely the case in relation to the Schweizer-Reneke investigation.

The DA will not deviate from its course of giving a report-back first – and directly – to the interested and affected parties in Schweizer-Reneke.

Media speculation and political agitation will not force us to deviate from our agreed course of action.

We are determined to act with integrity in this matter and to discuss the full context of the events and their aftermath directly with the interested and affected parties.

This issue and the individuals involved, have been used as political footballs for long enough and it is time to bring this to an end.

DA calls for probe after Public Service Commission DG appoints “alleged mistress” as ethics officer

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is deeply angered and disappointed by revelations that the Director-General in the Office of Public Service Commission (PSC), Dovhani Colbert Mamphiswana, allegedly chaired a panel that appointed the mother of his child to the position of Chief Director for Ethics at the PSC. Advocate Richard Sizani, the Chair of the Commission, must take immediate and decisive action to investigate these allegations. If the allegations are proven to be true, President Ramaphosa and his cabinet – which has the power to appoint and fire the Director-General of the PSC – must make an example out of him.

Mamphiswana’s alleged failure to recuse himself from the appointment process despite his glaring conflict of interest has plunged the PSC into a crisis of credibility. The Commission is not “just another” government agency – it is the watchdog over the entire public service and is supposed to enforce and abide by the absolute highest standards of ethics. It is vital that the government acts immediately to protect the PSC from the damage unleashed through Mamphiswana’s alleged misdeeds.

As our state continues to collapse, the ANC’s feeding frenzy has visibly accelerated in recent months. Over just the past month, we learned that the Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, appointed his corruption-accused niece as chief of staff, and that Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams allegedly abused taxpayer money to celebrate her wedding anniversary in Switzerland and New York. Meanwhile, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu also confirmed that she appointed the disgraced Menzi Simelane and Mo Shaik as advisers.

The PSC is supposed to be a bulwark against these kinds of disgraceful, nepotistic and corrupt appointments. However, Mamphiswana’s alleged conduct threatens to completely destroy the PSC’s ability to credibly intervene in these abuses.

It is also important to note that, under the PSC’s current legal framework, the Director-General of the PSC is not appointed by the Commission. Instead, Mamphiswana was appointed by Jacob Zuma and his cabinet. Not only does this rob the PSC of the power to appoint its own DG and manage its own affairs, but it also means that Mamphiswana reports to the cabinet instead of to the Commission. This arrangement blatantly undermines the independence of the PSC by effectively giving the cabinet control over the administrative affairs – including the budget – of the Commission.

The independence of the PSC should be sacrosanct. The allegations against Mamphiswana serves to confirm that it is time to radically restructure the PSC by making it wholly independent from the government. To this end, the DA will soon table our Professional Public Service Bill, which will take away the cabinet’s power to appoint the Director-General of the PSC. We call on all other parties in Parliament to heed the danger posed to the entire state by a compromised PSC, and to support our legislation.