The Health Minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, has demonstrated complete disdain for accountability and has abused his executive power to block an oversight visit by the Democratic Alliance (DA) to the international arrivals area at OR Tambo International airport where COVID-19 screening is done as travelers arrive in the country.
Blocking constitutionally mandated work of members of parliament and abusing your power to clamp down on oversight in the wake of an epidemic is suspect. It also shows that the Minister does not understand that he is accountable to Parliament, its members and by extension, the people of South Africa.
This is the problem with members of the executive who deem themselves above the checks and balances provided to us by our Constitution.
Last week, I personally wrote to the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) CEO and by extension the health team that they work with at OR Tambo. I communicated that the purpose of the visit is to get an understanding of the screening protocols in place, who is identified for screening, the equipment used and its effectiveness.
As a member of the portfolio committee on health, this is useful information to ensure that the people who go through our largest port of entry in the country are screened sufficiently.
Notifying the ACSA and Health teams was a courtesy. It was to ensure that they are aware that they will need to dedicate some time during their day for the briefing and for them to make the necessary arrangements. It was never to ask for permission.
I have since been notified that the visit was blocked and required “permission” from the Minister of Health. Despite the fact that I do not need permission from the Minister, I attempted to reach him to discuss this issue and he made himself unavailable but issued instructions to block me.
The Coronavirus has rocked even some of the strongest health systems across the globe. It is critical that all hands are on the proverbial deck in ensuring that our preventative measures are sound. This matter should never be politicised. South Africa needs all players to show leadership and work together.
In addition to this, Parliament is set to debate the state of readiness for COVID-19 outbreak and the expatriation of 150 South Africans from Wuhan, China this week. This information is critical for that debate too.
While much has been done across the various departments in the country to ready us for any eventuality, those plans and protocols are subject to oversight by the legislature.
We do not have much time. In the coming days, South Africans will be expatriated, quarantined and sent back into their various communities. This is no small undertaking. This is over and above the normal travelers who come in and out of South Africa as a global country.
Blocking members of the parliament from doing their work is simply bullying and arrogance that has no place in a constitutional democracy. As such, the DA will write to the Leader of Government Business, Deputy President David Mabuza to seek urgent intervention on this issue.
We will also not be deterred from doing conducting this oversight visit ahead of the debate on Thursday. This is important work on behalf of the people of South Africa.
The Minister needs to acquaint himself with the constitution and learn that transparency is key to the work that we both do.