DA proposes establishment of ad hoc committee for Executive oversight and protection of civil liberties

The DA has written to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, to request that she uses the power at her disposal in terms of Rule 253(1)(b) of the Rules of the National Assembly to establish an ad hoc committee of the National Assembly in order to ensure continuous oversight over the national executive authority and organs of state, and to ensure that civil liberties are protected at all times during this lockdown.

Section 55(2) of the Constitution directs the National Assembly to:

(a) to ensure that all executive organs of state in the national sphere of government are accountable to it; and

(b) to maintain oversight of-

(i) the exercise of national executive authority, including the implementation of legislation; and

(ii) any organ of state.

While the Democratic Alliance (DA) has committed its full support to President Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet, we as the official opposition, as well as our fellow opposition parties in the Assembly, still have a duty to hold the Executive to account.

Already this week there have been numerous reports of brutality at the hands of South African National Defence Force Soldiers deployed across South Africa, with more worrying accounts including allegations of soldiers opening fire on residents, and employing unnecessarily authoritarian and zealous violence and language. This is absolutely unacceptable, and deeply worrying as it shows a government in contempt of the civil liberties afforded to all South Africans in a free and democratic state.

These are unprecedented times and we need to look at extraordinary measures to ensure that we not only combat Covid-19 and the spread thereof in South Africa, but also have extraordinary measures in place to ensure there is consistent and continual accountability for government.

That is why we are proposing the establishment of an ad hoc committee.

Rule 167(g) indicates that a committee may meet in a venue determined by it. We are proposing that this committee meet via online platforms or videoconferencing facilities to respect the conditions of the lockdown and adhere to the principle of social distancing.

We need to uphold the rule of law and the constitution at all cost, even in this most unprecedented and unusual of times.

SAA on the skids

The news that yet another South African Airlines (SAA) CEO, Zuks Ramasia, has resigned is a further indication that SAA cannot be rescued.

It must surely be clear that the extension to the end of May 2020 for Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, the business rescue practitioners, to produce a business rescue plan is simply going to delay the inevitable liquidation of SAA.

This unprecedented two-month extension given to the business rescue practitioners by the SAA creditors will result in billions of rands of unnecessary taxpayer bailouts to meet SAA overhead costs such as fixed contracts and employee costs. Not to mention the millions of rands now being paid to Matuson and Dongwana and their very expensive additional staff and/or consultants appointed in terms of the business rescue process.

All this at a time when SAA has virtually no revenue for at least three weeks with most, if not all aircraft grounded because of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Despite the urgency of the situation, Matuson and Dongwana have not acknowledged a letter from the Democratic Alliance (DA) sent to them a week ago urging them to invoke section 141(2)(a)(ii) of the Companies Act 71 of 2008, and to apply to court for the SAA business rescue proceedings to be discontinued and for the airline to be placed in liquidation. A rather unfortunate indication of the apparent disdain with which they hold parliament and its members.

The DA has submitted a written parliamentary question to Pravin Gordhan, the Minister of Public Enterprises, to request details of the costs of the business rescue practitioners, as well as all the additional people and consultants employed or commissioned by Matuson and Dongwana.

Moody’s downgrade: Mboweni should table urgent new budget after lockdown

The decision by Moody’s to downgrade South Africa’s credit rating to junk is largely explained by two things: The government’s inability to get our national debt under control, and its inability to reform the electricity sector to allow for competitive generation. Our economic outlook is definitely worsened by the current Coronavirus crisis, but this is not the primary cause of this downgrade. 

We believe that as soon as the current national lockdown is over, Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni should table a new, emergency budget in Parliament.

This is necessary now, as none of the revenue and growth assumptions on which the February budget was based still survive. Revenue and growth projections are collapsing.

The Minister should see this as an opportunity to table an entirely new budget which lays the groundwork for a recovery once this crisis is over, and more importantly, fundamentally changes South Africa’s economic trajectory.

If we do not fundamentally change course our fiscal position will become unsustainable, and will make an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout necessary and unavoidable.

At the moment, we are on a course of slow and relentless decline. This must be stopped and turned around with decisive action from both the President and Minister Mboweni. 

For as long as there is not fundamental economic policy reform to turn South Africa’s economy away from strangling state control and towards growth, there will not be hope of regaining our investment grade rating. 

Bold leadership, free from the shackles of vested interests in the ANC’s competing factions, is what South Africa needs to dig itself out of this economic nightmare.

South Africa path to recovery can only begin if the ANC government is ready and willing to:

  • hold a firm line against trade unions who are intent on reversing the decision to cut R160 billion from the state wage bill; 
  • reduce the number of public sector managers who do not deliver front-line services;
  • support the DA’s proposed Fiscal responsibility Bill, which holds the key to reducing national debt and debt service costs;
  • free South Africans from Eskom’s death spiral by opening the energy market to IPPs;
  • disinvest from zombie state owned enterprises and immediately put a stop to further bailouts; and 
  • introduce far ranging reforms to ease up the labour regime and end the centralised power of bargaining councils. 

 The ANC’s obstinate refusal, over the years, to do the necessary and implement structural reforms has led us straight into a full-blown economic crisis.

Government adopts DA proposal for cutting the public wage bill

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the news that the government has adopted important aspects of our proposal for cutting the public wage bill. It was reported today that the government has turned its back on its original proposal to cut the wage bill by implementing a blanket freeze on wages across all salary levels in the public service.

The DA has long argued against this blunt approach, as it would severely impact our frontline service delivery heroes, including nurses, police officers and teachers, who are already working under very difficult conditions and who are not overpaid.

Instead, as we first proposed during the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in October 2019, the government should grant inflation-linked increases for all frontline service delivery heroes, while freezing the salaries of all managers and administrators and reducing the 29 000 millionaire managers in the public service by a third. This will save R168 billion over the next three years, thus exceeding finance minister Tito Mboweni’s target of cutting R160.2 billion and helping to avert an all-out debt crisis meltdown.

Reports on Friday indicate that the government adopted important parts of the DA’s proposal when it tabled a new wage offer to labour unions. In line with our proposal, instead of a blanket freeze on wages across the public service, the new offer proposes that lower-level employees in wage brackets 1 to 8 receive an inflation-linked increase of 4.4% in 2020/21, while higher wage earners – including the 29 000 millionaire managers – in brackets 9 to 16 would receive no increase.

While we welcome the government’s adoption of our proposal to protect lower-level staff, the DA has today written to the Minister of Public Service and Administration, Senzo Mchunu, with two additional proposals.

The first proposal is that, in order to raise an additional R29.4 billion with which to fund the inflation-linked increases for frontline OSD workers, the government must reduce the 29 000 millionaire managers in the state by a third. 

Our second proposal is that the government should use Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD), instead of salary brackets, to determine which staff should get inflation-linked increases. 

This is because there are some frontline service delivery heroes – like doctors, engineers and other skilled staff – who earn their higher salaries inn brackets 9 to 16, and who should not be affected by the wage freeze. These skilled staff are largely covered by OSD, which accounts for 66.3% of all public servants. They deserve to be exempted from the salary freeze.

The remaining 33.7% who are non-OSD is largely composed of the 29 000 millionaire managers and other administrators, and this is where the wage freeze should be targeted.

On average, each of the senior managers in government takes home R1.4 million per year, with the highest-level managers being paid just under R2 million per year. This is in sharp contrast to the average annual salary of R169 466 paid to a police officer, the average public school teacher’s salary of R273 209, and the average R302 000 paid to a public sector nurse per year. 

To correct this immoral imbalance, the DA reiterates our proposal to freeze the salaries of all non-OSD managers and administrators, while granting inflation-linked increases to all service delivery workers covered by OSD. 

The DA strongly urges the government to adopt these proposals in the same way that they have adopted our call to protect lower-paid staff when implementing wage freezes. 

DA opposes race-based criteria for Tourism Support fund

The Department of Tourism announced on its website that a Tourism Relief Fund of R200 million has been made available to assist Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) in the tourism and hospitality sector that are under economic pressure due to the new travel restrictions during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Although the Democratic Alliance (DA) supports the need for such a fund, we vehemently oppose the “delivery mechanisms” listed, these include:

  • “The relief will be distributed in a spatially equitable manner to ensure that all provinces benefit.
  • At least 70% of beneficiaries will be businesses that are Black-owned.
  • At least 50% of beneficiaries will be businesses that are women-owned.
  • At least 30% of beneficiaries will be businesses that are youth owned.
  • At least 4% of beneficiaries will be businesses that are owned by people with disabilities.”

Instead of putting the interest of all South African SMMEs first, the ANC continues with their obsession with race-based criteria for funding despite this period of international crisis. While the entire sector will suffer during lockdown – government seeks to add additional racial, gender and age barriers.

The problem with this approach is that it will lock out thousands of companies from funding because BEE Codes classify entities based on their annual turnover. Entities with a turnover of less than R10 million are regarded as an exempted micro enterprise (EME). Entities whose turnover is more than R10 million, but less than R50 million are regarded as qualifying small enterprises (QSE). This means that any funding based on BEE qualifying criteria or ownership which is what all incentives are measured on will miss over 93% of all companies which have a turnover of less than R10 million per year or not 51% black-owned.

Based on this, it is quite clear that there will not be sufficient applicants to fit in with the arbitrary percentages per category that have seemingly been thumbsucker by the Minister as most tourism businesses are EME with less than R10 million turnover and are not black-owned.

This is a time to ensure that all businesses are assisted so that our beleaguered economy can grow as soon as possible.  Keeping any South African out will do the very opposite.

That is why the DA wrote to Trade and Industry Minister, Ebrahim Patel on the 19th of March 2020 requesting him to place a moratorium on BEE to ensure that all South African businesses have access to funding regardless of race. To date, the Minister has not been bothered to respond.

The DA will be writing to Tourism Minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane requesting that the criteria for the Tourism fund be made available to all South Africans.  Doing this will contribute to our economic growth which we so desperately need. This period should be used to unite South Africans, not divide them as policies that exclude people.

DA welcomes SA Express liquidation process, SAA should follow suit

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the decision by the Business Rescue Practitioners (BRP) appointed to SA Express to liquidate the company as “there is no reasonable prospect for SA Express to be rescued”.

This is long overdue. Despite successive government bailouts amounting to R1.5 billion received by SA Express over the past two years, the airline is insolvent as its current liabilities exceed its current assets by R374 million during its 2019 financial year. It recorded a loss of R591 million in 2019, more than three times the previous year’s R162 million loss.

The Department of Public Enterprise’s  (DPE) decision to withhold further funding to the moribund entity has acted as a spur to the Rescue Practitioner’s decision to liquidate. While this eventuality was occasioned by a spat between the DPE and the BRP it reflects the inescapable reality of an entity whose financial position is so dire that March 2020 salaries to its 691 employees have not been paid.

The Minister responsible for Public Enterprises would do well to apply the same logic to South African Airways (SAA), and other defunct entities, which is equally bankrupt and represents a considerable ongoing drain on the fiscus at a time of national crisis where the funds potentially earmarked for shoring up a failed company could be better employed in the battle against Covid-19. We do not need a flying albatross – what is needed is all hands on deck in the ship’s infirmary.

The DA calls for Minister Pravin Gordhan to take this bold and necessary step without delay.

The country will thank him for it.

DA extends its condolences to the families of first South African COVID-19 victims

 Please find attached soundbite from John Steenhuisen MP.

We learnt with sadness this morning of the first loss of life in South Africa to COVID-19. Two women, one 28 year-old and one 48 year-old, both in the Western Cape, succumbed to the virus this morning. Their identities have not yet been released. On behalf of the Democratic Alliance I would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to their friends and relatives. Our thoughts and prayers are with you in these difficult times.

This sad news is a reminder that this deadly virus is very real, and not something that happens far away to other people. It will spread through our communities – as it has done elsewhere in the world – and all that stands in the way of significant loss of life is our collective effort as a nation. We dare not take the lockdown measures lightly.

To date there is no cure and there is no vaccine. The only weapon we have in the fight against this virus is time. If we can slow down the infections by breaking the social contacts that spread the virus, we can buy our healthcare workers the precious time needed to treat those who require critical care.

I call on each and every South African to play their part over the coming weeks. Yes, the effects of this lockdown on our economy and on our people’s livelihoods will be brutal. But the alternative will be far, far worse. It is imperative that we all make the sacrifice now that could save the lives of thousands. And following this, we must all roll up our sleeves to rebuild what we lost.

Please stay in your home and respect the rules put in place. Don’t travel, unless it’s absolutely essential. Don’t meet with friends or colleagues. Don’t congregate in supermarkets. Maintain a safe distance from others. Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, and don’t touch your face. That is the only way we will break the chain of infection.

This may be uncharted territory for the whole world, but I know South Africans have what it takes to overcome adversity. We’ve stood united before, and we can do so again. Our actions today can save the lives of many – particularly our grandmothers and grandfathers, and all those who may not have the protection of a robust immune system.

While we separate ourselves physically, let us stand together in spirit. And please join us as we observe a minute’s silence at midday today in honour of the two women who lost their lives this morning.

Cele must ensure EFF rogue command are stopped

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has noted with concern the EFF’s threats to shut down companies and “pay them a special visit” during the lockdown.

The EFF has taken to social media to threaten and intimidate businesses who they believe are not essential services or who they believe have inflated prices.

The EFF’s violent behaviour is well known, and the South African Police Service (SAPS) must move swiftly to prevent any violence against businesses and their employees at the hands of the EFF’s rogue command.

The SAPS, with the support of the South African National Defence Force, are the only institutions mandated to enforce the regulations relating to the lockdown.

The EFF has no authority to enforce any regulations or laws and their reckless behaviour during a time of national uncertainty is grossly irresponsible.

I will be writing to Minister Bheki Cele to inform him of these threats and request that SAPS take control of the situation to prevent any illegal behaviour at the hands of the EFF.

Even more South Africans stranded abroad following airlines’ confusion over lockdown

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on the Departments of Transport and International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) to urgently engage with international airlines on the specifics of air travel ahead of the nationwide lockdown. This comes after the DA has been fielding queries from South Africans stranded in airports all over the world as airlines have purportedly been informed that airports in South Africa are now closed – despite the lockdown only being enforced from midnight tonight.

South Africans coming off a cruise liner in Rome, Italy have been left stranded at the airport along with passengers in Dubai, Doha, Maldives, Angola and Heathrow, all for the same reason. In fact, it seems the only two airlines making the journey to OR Tambo currently are KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Turkish Airlines.

We need clarity as to why only certain airlines are permitted into the country whilst others are telling passengers that they cannot enter.

This also means that a number of South Africans outside of the country, who were making their way home before the lockdown in compliance with the announcement by the President, will be left stranded.

According to a parent of one of the South Africans stuck in Doha, Qatar Airlines have informed passengers that they will not fly to Johannesburg because the South African Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, has announced that the airspace in Johannesburg is now closed.

It is unfortunate that the President of the country is making all the right moves in trying to flatten the curve and defeating Covid-19 but his ministers keep on juggling his words into their own interpretation and seem to be making their own confusing guidelines on the fly.

During these unprecedented times of uncertainty no citizen should be left to feel alone and ignored by their government. The DA, therefore, urges the Ministers of Transport and DIRCO, Fikile Mbalula and Naledi Pandor, to rectify this situation immediately to ensure that those South Africans stuck abroad can return home.

UIF wage deal for clothing workers should be extended to other sectors

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the collective agreement concluded in the National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Manufacturing Industry, which will ensure that workers are paid during the lockdown period.

The agreement, which will be made possible with funds drawn from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), should be extended to other industries, so that no worker is left destitute at this time of national crisis.

In terms of the agreement, which makes provision for the extension of the lockdown to a possible 6 weeks, the UIF and clothing manufacturing companies will take turns to pay workers’ weekly salaries as follows:

Week 1: Employer pays for work during the week before the lockdown.

Week 2: The employer will pay any wages still owed for work already performed, with the balance made up by money from the UIF. Workers should get the equivalent of a full week’s wage.

Week 3. Full week’s wages, paid by employer.

Week 4: Full week’s wage, paid by UIF.

Week 5: Full week’s wage, paid by employer

Week 6: Full week’s wage, paid by UIF.

The UIF will pay funds over to the Council, into a specially created bank account. From there, it will be distributed to eligible companies. The regulations stipulate that the money can’t be used for anything other than worker payments, and that anyone who abuses the money will be “immediately” prosecuted.

This is an excellent initiative and a laudable model that should be extended to other industries.

The UIF, which is reported to have nearly R180 billion in reserves, has a mandate to assist South African workers when they are unable to work. It is imperative that the money be used for the direct benefit of those workers whose income and livelihoods have been put in jeopardy by Covid-19.