DA instructs lawyers to proceed with court application against certain category-based economic Covid-19 relief

Please find attached soundbite from John Steenhuisen MP.

The DA has today instructed its lawyers to proceed with our application to the High Court to seek urgent relief to prevent the unlawful use of B-BBEE status, race, gender, age or disability as criteria in relation to economic or other forms of relief or assistance. This after the Minister for Small Business Development, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, missed the 17:00 deadline yesterday to provide an explanation for her department’s about-turn on the use of race and B-BBEE as evaluating criteria for government’s SMME Debt Relief Fund.

It must be noted that our case is different from the litigation filed by Solidarity because we are not merely contesting the use of race-based policies for financial relief in one Ministry, but discrimination as a whole and across each and every sector of our economy during a National State of Disaster.

We believe that under such dire circumstances, it is unconscionable for government to cherry pick who is deserving of assistance based on a set of arbitrary criteria, bearing in mind that black workers and employees will lose their jobs should their company be denied assistance purely because it is white-owned.

After intitally denying this race-based relief a month ago – calling a leaked report stipulating the B-BBEE criteria “fake news” – Minister Ntshavheni confirmed on Tuesday, during a joint meeting of the Portfolio and Select Committees for Small Business Development, that race would indeed be a determining factor. It is clear that their desperate scramble to initially quell the justified public outrage was nothing but a PR exercise.

Through this court action the DA is seeking for it to be declared impermissible and unlawful for government to use B-BBEE status, race, gender, age or disability as a criteria for determining which persons or entities will receive economic or other forms of relief or assistance. Our application will seek to establish a precedent across all sectors under the Disaster Management Act.

The DA will not allow the crisis of this pandemic, which affects all South Africans, to be used to divide our nation. We cannot have the President continuously calling for unity and asking all South Africans to contribute to the relief funds, while his ministers then hide behind B-BBEE regulations to deny certain citizens fair access to these funds.

The irony the ANC government does not seem to grasp is that businesses that are now being denied emergency relief because the owner is white employ huge numbers of black employees. These are the people whose families will be denied an income and who will face incredible hardship and hunger if the ANC gets away with this.

It is unconscionable for the ANC government to play race politics at a time like this. To ask someone’s race before deciding whether they are worth rescuing is something we never thought we’d see again in South Africa. And it is a terrible indictment on the ruling party that they have to be taken to court to be forced to serve and protect all citizens of this country equally.

Treasury predicts between 3 and 7 million jobs will be lost

Today, in a presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance, the National Treasury revealed that it projects between 3 and 7 million job losses as a result of a protracted lockdown. This is a staggering prediction, far worse than anyone previously thought. It is becoming increasingly likely that the human, social and economic cost of this protracted lockdown will be far worse than previously considered, and will be more severe than the consequences of lockdowns in the developed world. 

This underscores how important it is to open up more of the economy safely, as the DA has proposed. We have proposed a model in which businesses which can operate safely be allowed to open immediately, with strict social distancing and personal protection requirements. 

We call on National Treasury to support our call to open more of the economy safely, to avoid the unprecedented catastrophe of between 3 and 7 million job losses. No leader or policymaker in South Africa can possibly be comfortable with such a high human cost to the lockdown. To do so would be deeply irresponsible. We must act now to avert these job losses. 

The core problem is that lockdown “Stage 4” is insufficiently different from total lockdown, and keeps too much of the economy shuttered, without any health basis for doing so. The only changes in “Stage 4 are piecemeal and marginal, and in some cases are more restrictive. This is because the government’s model is a blunt instrument that picks winning and losing industries, without any apparent justification in transparent and available health data. 

Instead, we propose a model where industries themselves would determine what needs to be done to safely protect workers and customers, and any business that can comply with those requirements would be permitted to open. 

DA calls on Mboweni to explain how Tourism sector will be assisted to prevent further job losses

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will submit Parliamentary questions to Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, to enquire about the implications for the Tourism sector in the short, medium and long term following his statement  on 24 April 2020 that there will not be much tourism that will be happening for a while. So, it would not make sense to allocate funds towards tourism during a period when tourism is not taking place,”.

This is particularly relevant considering that he stated that he would be removing all budget items that can be “postponed”.

From Minister Mboweni’s statement, it appears that there are no plans by Government to assist the Tourism sector immediately. This means that the sector will be without support or assistance for the foreseeable future. It will also have an adverse effect on the increasing number of unemployed people within the sector due to the current Covid-19 lockdown.

The decision to overlook the Tourism sector is unfortunate and could deal a devastating blow, given the fact that this sector is a key direct and indirect employer of small, medium and macro enterprises (SMMEs) and vulnerable groups, such as people in rural areas.

The decision will result in an inevitable tourism crisis.

Despite Government’s attitude in not considering tourism an important sector, the statistics tell a different story.  According to StatsSA, the total tourism and travel sector contribution to the GDP in 2018 stood at 8.6%. This translates to R425.5 billion, making this sector the largest tourist sector in Africa and the 6th biggest sector in the South African economy, surpassing sectors such as agriculture.

In 2018 the tourism and travel sector employed 9,2% of the total number of people employed in South Africa, or 1 in every 22 employed person, translating to 1 499 700 jobs.  These numbers surpass sectors such as mining.

The tourism sector cannot be “postponed” by doing nothing, as “later” may mean that the entire sector may by then be decimated to such a point that there is nothing left.  Already Spur, a chain of family steak restaurants, has announced last week that their outlets will not reopen at all as it would not be economically viable.  With over 600 outlets in its stable, its franchisees employ more than 30 000 people directly.

This is just one example of many, where people become instantly unemployed because of Government’s short-sightedness and illogical regulations that are impacting negatively on the economy and creating more job losses.

The tourism sector is preparing for a post-lockdown South Africa when the focus will initially be on local tourism before international visitors visit our shores. Countries such as New Zealand already have a tourism strategy and are considering opening itself to selected countries that have been successful in dealing with the virus.

Already Turkey is introducing from May onwards a “coronavirus-free” certification programme for international tourists that ensures tourism health safety from all sides.

Just like Turkey and New Zealand, we need to develop a tourism recovery plan for the medium and long-term whilst also saving jobs now.  There appears to be no recovery plan or even an attempt at working on one.

DA mourns the passing of struggle stalwart Denis Goldberg

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is saddened by the passing of struggle stalwart and Rivonia trialist, Denis Goldberg, on Wednesday evening.

From a young age, Goldberg was active in politics and was dedicated to the struggle to obtain freedom for all in a free and democratic South Africa.

Goldberg was among the 16 activists and freedom fighters who formed part of the Rivonia Trial and spent 22 years in jail. After his release, he continued to support the struggle against apartheid from London where he was exiled with his family. After the first democratic elections in 1994, Goldberg found the development organisation Community H.E.A.R.T. to improve the lives of South Africans.

Whether it was during apartheid or in democratic South Africa, Goldberg never shied away from speaking truth to power, even if it would have been easier for him to look away.

The DA sends its heartfelt condolences to Goldberg’s family and loved ones during these difficult times.

DA calls on SASSA to open all offices to speed up applications for unemployment grant

The Democratic Alliance (DA) once again calls on the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) to urgently open all its offices to assist with the influx of applications for the special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant of R350.

Applications for the grant can be done online via email and a WhatsApp number, while many of the people who are in desperate need of the grant do not have access to these and the other online platforms.

The DA has learned with some trepidation, however, that SASSA’s answer to this problem is not to open its offices, but to train volunteers to go into communities to assist people without access to technology to apply for the special grant.

There seems to be little rhyme or reason for this proposal.

SASSA already has an extensive footprint with offices all around the country. The agency has staff that are readily trained to assist people that are currently at home. SASSA’s next logical step should have been to capacitate their offices and allow their employees to do the jobs they were trained for and for which they are being paid. Why spend money on training volunteers and acquiring gadgets to capture data when those resources are already in play, but not being uitilised? Surely the money allocated for training purposes would be much better spent on assisting the most vulnerable in our society.

SASSA’s proposal could also expose already vulnerable people to exploitation from criminals. If people know that they can apply for the special grant at their local SASSA office, it significantly lowers the risk of criminals taking advantage of them and obtaining their personal information by posing as volunteers.

The DA is also concerned by the requirement for bank account details to apply for the grant. It does not make sense to require people to apply for bank accounts now when the grants will only be paid for six months. SASSA should rather consider using alternative platforms like eWallets to pay grants to recipients.

The fact that people need to provide a proof of residence to apply for the grant is worrying. The DA has received reports that the Lekwa Municipality in Mpumalanga is charging people R30 for proof of residence documents, without providing them with receipts. They are surely not the only Municipality that does this. It is ludicrous to expect people that do not have enough money to buy food, to have the funds to pay for a proof of residence document. This added burden will deter a lot of people that would otherwise have benefited from the grant.

Millions of South Africans are facing utter desperation, as the Covid-19 lockdown continues. SASSA, therefore, needs to get its house in order to ensure that vulnerable South Africans can apply and access these grants as soon as possible.

The DA launches Covid -19 corruption hotline

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has today launched a dedicated Covid – 19 Corruption Hotline, where members of the public can blow the whistle on corrupt activities committed by public office bearers and law enforcement officials relating to the enforcement of Covid-19 measures or the distribution of relief.

The DA Covid-19 Corruption hotline will allow the public a safe and anonymous space to report incidents of graft related to the distribution of food parcels, and can also be utilised to report law enforcement officers or members of the defence force who are involved in fraud and bribery.

We have selected a team of parliamentarians, who are experts in the fields of justice and security, who will oversee the hotline and advise the public on all complaints received.

Covid-19 social relief has been put in place because the pandemic has created a greater need for supplies and services to be redirected towards meeting the needs of poor South Africans. However, some people will and have used this opportunity for self-enrichment at the expense of the state and the poor during this national disaster

The DA encourages the public to make use of this hotline by sending an email to ExposeCovidCorruption@da.org.za

We cannot allow greed and corruption to divert critical resources that are desperately needed by the poor, nor can we allow for law enforcement officials to take advantage of South Africans during this time.

The challenge against corruption and greed during this unprecedented time will require all stakeholders, together with members of the public, to be vigilant and work together to hold perpetrators accountable.

UIF Covid-19 Ters benefit: Extend the deadline to 15 May

Please find an attached soundbite by Dr Michael Cardo MP, DA Shadow Minister for Employment and Labour

The DA is calling on the government to extend the deadline by which employers must apply for the Unemployment Insurance Fund [UIF]’s Covid-19 Ters benefit.

According to the Department of Employment and Labour’s manual, Covid-19: Frequently Asked Questions, as things stand, the deadline for applications covering the lockdown period of 27 March to 30 April, is today.

The DA believes that the deadline should be extended to 15 May. This is because the applications process has been plagued with gremlins and obstacles, making it almost impossible for a large number of employers to submit their applications on time.

Many employers have not been able to access the Covid-19 Ters website because the site has repeatedly crashed over the past two weeks. Initially, the UIF created an e-mail portal to which employers e-mailed all the required documentation: bank statements, their payroll and a signed MOA. This system was subsequently abandoned in favour of a new website. The website has persistently malfunctioned. Furthermore, many employers don’t know whether their applications were successfully migrated to the new site or whether they need to resubmit them.

To make matters worse, for various reasons not of their making, many employers have been locked out of their UIF uFiling profiles. They cannot get help because the UIF is completely overwhelmed, and more often that not phone calls and emails to the Fund go unanswered. There is no turnaround time for feedback on the various support channels, which has left employers in the dark and their unpaid employees increasingly frustrated, desperate and mutinous on the last day of the month.

In order to iron out these significant difficulties, the UIF and employers need more time. The President, through the Minister of Employment and Labour, should announce an extension of the deadline for applications to 15 May without further delay.

Additionally, over the next two weeks, SARS needs to scale up its assistance to the UIF massively in order to streamline the processing and payment of the Ters benefit. In particular, SARS should merge the data at its disposal (principally IRP5 reconciliations and EMP 201 declarations) with UIF applications so that payouts can occur more rapidly and accurately.

Level 4: A copy and paste of Level 5, disastrous for livelihoods

Ultimately, there is not enough to distinguish lockdown Level 4 from Level 5. This will be disastrous for millions of lives and livelihoods. Government has essentially smuggled through an extension of the hard lockdown under the guise of easing restrictions.

If government had gone with the DA’s Smart Lockdown proposal, more of the economy could have been opened without compromising safety.

Government’s approach is unnecessarily blunt and restrictive, with simply no justification for many of the arbitrary rules and restrictions.

The DA proposed an incentives-driven approach in which government specifies the safety measures that must be in place before a business can open, and businesses then decide if they are willing or able to meet the required safety standards.

This empowers employers, employees and customers within a reasonable set of safety rules. Reasonableness and compliance go hand in hand. Government’s unreasonable approach may undermine the whole Covid-19 response by generating an explosion of non-compliance.

The DA’s approach incentivises businesses and people to comply, maximising jobs and tax revenue. Government’s forces many to remain closed, potentially forcing them underground – to trade illegally or die.

By way of example, no-one will now be able to legally sell or pay for a haircut, which will have devastating consequences for many working class people who run salons and barbers out of their homes to support their families. The DA’s Level 4 would allow hairdressers to operate, as long as they can meet a specified level of safety.

Some of the decisions are draconian, such as the continued ban on smoking and sale of hot food. Will sugar and fatty foods be next? The President told us smoking would be allowed in Level 4 – but the command council has now backtracked on this.

Others are simply irrational – not based on a consideration of public safety at all, which is the whole purpose of a lockdown. E-commerce (online shopping with delivery) for example is not allowed. Other countries are looking to e-commerce to keep their small businesses afloat, save jobs and service customers. Here we’ve chosen arbitrary ministerial diktat over harnessing individual creativity and decision-making.

Surely the only criterion that matters here is the risk of spreading the virus. If this risk is minimal, then the business should be allowed to trade. Any other decision is purely authoritarian.

One gets the sense that the call for comment was merely a box-ticking exercise, since little has changed from what the government proposed last week, notwithstanding the 70 000 submissions.

Except on the matter of exercise, for which the solution is incomprehensible. Government seems to have forgotten the whole reason we locked down in the first place – to ensure our wellbeing. Now citizens are told they can only exercise between 6am and 9am – as if exercising after work in the evening is somehow bad for them. If anything, this is less safe, as people will all be out at the same time.

And what of those who need to leave home at 5am to get to work? But then again, the ANC has long-since stopped caring about poor people. Or perhaps, for them, the working day doesn’t start before 9am?

Other restrictions are well-intended, such as the continued ban on alcohol, but will have severe negative unintended consequences. This will broaden business opportunities for the mafia and starve our fiscus of needed revenue. The DA suggested reasonable restrictions on times and quantity of legal alcohol sales.

The common thread running through all the restrictions is government’s fundamental lack of trust in the people of South Africa, who are being treated as children rather than adults. People are not being trusted with data or empowered with any reasonable degree of personal decision-making.

The curfew demonstrates this best of all. The DA will consider challenging its legality. President Ramaphosa’s cabinet seems to be indulging in all its nanny-state fantasies. It may soon find itself having to justify these in court, where reasonableness still prevails.

Minister Patel gives Parliament the middle finger before level 4 regulations are announced

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is dismayed at the conduct of Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel who gave parliament the proverbial middle finger by sending a letter to the Committee an hour before it was scheduled to meet saying he could no longer attend.

This meeting was set to discuss Government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis which has devastating consequences for many businesses and workers. Members of the DA were also set to grill Minister Patel on the level 4 regulations which are set to be announced later today following our detailed submission to government.

Patel has shown complete and utter disdain for oversight, ignoring correspondence from the DA on a number of key issues. Today’s dodging, ducking and diving is just a repetition in a pattern of behaviour.

It is becoming abundantly clear that Patel has assumed large amounts of power during this crisis. He has been free to make up rules as he sees fit and to decide what is fair and what is not.

President Ramaphosa has remained silent following Patel’s continued mishaps and needs to urgently reign in this out of control Minister.

There are too many businesses that are looking to Parliament and MPs to provide guidance during this difficult time, which is why we should express our complete rejection for his no-show today.

DA welcomes judgment rejecting ANC power grab in Tshwane

The DA welcomes the judgment handed down today in the North Gauteng High Court in the matter of Democratic Alliance and 3 others v The Premier for the Province of Gauteng and 16 others, in which the decision by the Gauteng provincial government to place the City of Tshwane under administration was overturned. The judgment also ordered all ANC and EFF council members to attend future council meetings unless they have a lawful reason to be absent.

This is an important victory not only for the residents of Tshwane, but for each and every citizen residing in towns and cities across South Africa, as this judgment will protect them too from the undemocratic interference of ANC-led provincial governments. Today was indeed a victory for democracy.

Next year’s Local Government Elections will no doubt see the ANC lose even more municipalities to minority governments. If they were allowed to get away with this blatant power grab in Tshwane, nothing would have prevented ANC-led provincial governments from doing the same wherever voters sent them packing.

In his scathing judgment, Judge President Dunstan Mlambo laid the reason and blame for the dysfunctional Tshwane council firmly at the feet of the ANC and EFF councillors whose continued walkouts left the council unable to conduct its business. He rightly points out that these councillors were prioritising their own party political agendas over their service to the people.

He was equally scathing of the inability of Gauteng COGTA MEC, Lebogang Maile – and by extension, the Gauteng Executive Council and Premier David Makhura – to bring these truant councillors to book despite having the power of the Systems Act Code to do so, saying that this would clearly have been a more appropriate course of action than the dissolution of council.

In the light of the judge’s devastating comments on the role Maile played in the collapse of the Tshwane council, we have no choice but to call for his immediate suspension. The DA will also now consider taking action in the NCOP, where the ANC was equally complicit in their eagerness and haste to support this power grab.

This judgment confirms what the DA has said since the start of the disruptions to the Tshwane council: that this decision to place Tshwane under administration was nothing but a poorly disguised attempt to take back, undemocratically, what the ANC had lost at the ballot box. This is why today’s judgment is a big victory for democracy, and a serious setback for those intent on undermining it.

The DA is proud of our colleagues who continued to serve the residents of Tshwane so selflessly during this trying time, and especially during the period of lockdown. We welcome this vindication, along with the cost order issued against the provincial government. The court has further ordered that council must be reinstated and that a council meeting must take place five days after level 5 lockdown has ended.

The DA is ready for this. We have never stopped working to ensure that Tshwane residents receive top quality services, and we look forward to doing so unencumbered by the undemocratic schemes of the ANC and its allies.