Parliament is shirking its oversight responsibility during the lockdown

A response from National Assembly Deputy Speaker, Lechesa Tsenoli, to my letter requesting the establishment of an ad hoc committee demonstrates a gravely worrying suppression of oversight and the gagging of parliament during the Covid-19 lockdown.

In his refusal to establish the committee, Mr Tsenoli states that my request is “so broad and of such a nature that it would not be feasible to expect a single ad hoc committee to perform”, further stating that the work “must be done by all existing parliamentary committees and Members of Parliament”.

What Mr Tsenoli fails to realise is that the National Disaster declaration, and the subsequent lockdown, have led to the establishment of a National Command Council creating a unique scenario in which wings of government are rolling out programmes which are out of the ordinary and thus cannot be effectively held to account by Parliament’s existing committees.

In its oversight role, Parliament is supposed to mirror government in order to exercise oversight comprehensively. Because the structure of government has adapted to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak, so must Parliament adapt its oversight capacity to oversee it. This is precisely why I have called for the establishment of an ad hoc committee.

Furthermore, Mr Tsenoli’s statement that “Parliament was using information and communication technologies for parliamentary committees and members to effectively continue to engage in their oversight and monitoring role” is worryingly misleading. Not one member of the DA’s Shadow Cabinet has received any such correspondence from Parliament’s standing committee chairpersons.

Parliament also has a pressing responsibility to help prepare South Africa for the realities of a post-Covid-19 world. We need an urgent economic recovery plan which parliamentarians have a duty to flesh out during this time.

Following Mr Tsenoli’s directive, every member of my Shadow Cabinet will be writing to their respective committee chairpersons requesting for committees to be urgently convened via videoconference during the lockdown period.

Considering the numerous acts of police brutality and the rising number of deaths allegedly at the hands of police officers during the lockdown, oversight over the executive has never been more crucial in our country.

Essentially, Parliament has been rendered obsolete by refusing to adapt to the changing government during this time and the changing circumstances surrounding its work. Mr Tsenoli’s failure to ensure oversight in this regard is a worrying manipulation of democratic processes which demands immediate attention.

It is incomprehensible that at the time of our nation’s greatest crisis, parliament remains disengaged from what is going on in our country and is not being utilised to prepare South Africa for the changing environment in a post-Covid-19 world.

Fitch downgrade underscores need for a new budget

The announcement by Fitch Ratings that it has downgraded South Africa from BB+ to BB, with a negative outlook, underscores the urgent need for Tito Mboweni to table a new, emergency budget immediately after the lockdown is over.

Fitch makes it clear that the reason for the downgrade is “a lack of a clear path towards government debt stabilisation” and a failure to follow through on plans to cut the cost of the public wage bill. All of these pressures are exacerbated by the economic cost of Covid-19. This underscores that the economic crisis we face is a result of bad economic policy, no fundamental reform, profligate public spending, and corruption. All of this has left our economy weak and unable to respond in this time of global shock.

It is now clear that none of the assumptions which underpin the budget Minister Mboweni tabled in February are still reliable. There is still no clear progress on an economic reform agenda, despite renewed verbal commitments. Tax revenue and economic growth are collapsing, and the rand has weakened to nearly R20 to the dollar.

For example, the budget tabled in February assumes a 5.5% growth in VAT revenue this year. Given the devastation the economy is now suffering, that target is impossible.

It would undermine the credibility of the Treasury to continue with this budget. It should be discarded and a new budget tabled immediately after the lockdown. This new budget should be the first small step on what will be a long journey to regaining our investment grade credit rating.

But there will be no hope of regaining our investment grade rating without fundamental economic policy reform, most urgently in ending the Eskom monopoly on power generation. There can be little growth in an economic climate that advocates state control, regardless of the evidence.

  • hold a firm line against trade unions who are intent on reversing the decision to cut at least 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.

DA calls for unbanning of all ‘non-essential’ goods in retail stores that are currently trading

Please click here for a soundbite by Dean Macpherson MP, the DA Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls for an end to arbitrary limitations on what can be sold in stores that are open during the lockdown. The confusion around what are considered “essential items” in grocery stores, pharmacies and the like, is unhelpful and should be ended.

I will write to Minister Ebrahim Patel and request him to recommend for gazetting that all stores that are open during the lockdown to be able to sell anything that is normally in their stores.

It is illogical and makes no sense for instance that a store at a petrol station is not allowed to sell pies or that a grocery store is not allowed to sell prepared, warm food. We have seen even more ridiculous examples of this in this week of lockdown such as retail stores closing their magazines and snacks shelves and mothers of new born babies not being able to buy clothes for their babies.

Across South Africa, law enforcement officials are often being allowed sole discretion to interpret these regulations as they see fit which is having huge consequences for many people, from urban to rural settings.

Any item, from hygiene products to electronics, found in a retailer that is allowed to be open should be available for sale to consumers. Once existing stock is sold out, then these items won’t be replenished until after the lockdown.

The bottom line is, that any good found in a store, that is already open under current regulations, should be allowed for sale.

This does not include the sale of liquor which is prohibited during this time in terms of Section 27,(2)i of the Disaster Management Act of 2002. The DA supports this regulations as we believe alcohol sales could encourage people to make irresponsible decisions or to congregate in social groups, both if which we want to avoid during the lockdown.

We do not believe the same rationale can be applied to cigarettes and the DA therefore includes cigarettes in our call for all goods currently in stores, open to the public, to be for sale.

It appears on the face of it that there is no obstacle in law to allowing citizens the free choice to buy whatever they may find in store.

These arbitrary restrictions are also incredibly damaging for big retailers to spaza shops who are being forced to sit on stock they can not sell in an already challenging economic time.

Nine days into South Africa’s lockdown, it is time that we start thinking clearly and rationally about the plethora of regulations that our people are subject to and that we start simplifying them in the best interest of South Africans and our economy.

DA calls for strong punishment following IPID report of 8 deaths due to “police action” 

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is horrified by reports of an Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) report which alleges that since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown operation, 2 people have died in police custody and 6 as the result of police action.

This staggering figure of 8 deaths in as many days is proof that Police Minister, Bheki Cele’s approach of ‘skop, skiet and donner’ is undeniably harmful and completely at odds with the fight against the disease and the role that the police should play.

The report reveals a further 30 incidents where people have suffered due to some form of misconduct by the police and one incident of rape at the hands of a police officer. We call on the IPID to investigate these vile acts which have been perpetrated against the public without fear or favour and to ensure that the responsible officers are duly accountable.

The DA will write to the Acting Executive Director of  IPID requesting him to provide the public with daily briefings regarding the cases it is investigating. During this time transparency and accountability are of utmost importance.

South Africa is not in a state of emergency but in a state of national disaster. The rule of law, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution should be adhered to at all times. The role of the police is to enforce the lockdown and encourage people to stay at home and practice social distancing – within the confines of the lockdown regulations.

Unfortunately what we have seen is the complete opposite, with increased risk incidents of violence at the hands of those who are tasked with protecting and serving us.

The DA has always maintained that abuse of power by the police at such a vulnerable time must be addressed and eradicated. This is why we have called for the establishment of an ad hoc committee of the National Assembly to provide for stronger and stricter oversight over the national executive authority, organs of state and ensure the protection of the civil liberties of South Africans during the lockdown.

The DA also encourages the public to make use of our newly launched WhatsApp number and e-mail platforms, which South Africans can use to report acts of violence by law enforcement officers. Anyone who wants to report incidents of abuse by law enforcement officers can WhatsApp the DA on 067 977 9324 or e-mail reportpoliceabuse@da.org.za.

We send our condolences to all those who have lost loved ones due to police brutality and misconduct.

DA sends condolences to family and loved ones of General Constand Viljoen

The Democratic Alliance (DA) extends our condolences to the family and loved ones of the former commander of the South African Defence Force (SADF), General Constand Viljoen following his passing on Friday afternoon.

Viljoen played an integral role in defusing the possible threat of armed violence ahead of our nation’s first democratic elections in 1994 and also made his mark in the political arena as one of the co-founders of the Freedom Front.

Viljoen is survived by his wife, Christina Heckroodt, and his 5 children.

We send our deepest condolences to those who are left behind and wish them strength during this difficult time. May his soul rest in peace.

STRAIGHT TALK: Economic reform is now urgent to save lives and livelihoods

South Africa is in an extremely vulnerable situation. A “heavy and devastating storm” – to quote Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on the pandemic – is approaching and, simultaneously, our economy is collapsing.

It has been dealt a triple blow recently, with the massive run on our bonds, our country going into lockdown, and our credit rating being junked.

The immediate result of these will be a sudden drop in tax revenue coupled with a steep rise in the cost of borrowing. Having managed our economy extraordinarily badly over the past twelve years, dithering over the reforms we know we need to implement, we now find our cupboard bare at precisely the time when we need to ramp up spending considerably to save lives and livelihoods during and after this pandemic.

This is not just a problem in the short-term. The risk of long-term economic decline – a shrinking economy and runaway debt – and massive social instability has also intensified strongly. That puts lives at risk from threats other than the Coronavirus – threats such as falling healthcare and social grant budgets, malnutrition, starvation, growing unemployment and increased violent crime.

Minister Mkhize this week prevailed on provincial health departments to use this short grace period – the calm before the storm – to “move with speed” to prepare for the coming onslaught of cases of infection.

Similarly, there can be no dithering on the economic side. We need swift action to assist households and businesses in distress. This should be through existing mechanisms such as the social grant, VAT repayment and banking systems. SARB, the Treasury, and banks need to play a leading role. The government must put ideology aside and seek as much financial assistance as possible from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

This must be coupled with swift, bold reform focused on implementation – both to mitigate the damage during this pandemic, and to enable our society and economy to recover as fast as possible once it has passed.

Economic reform has always been a matter of life and death. But this Coronavirus has amplified the trade-offs involved. Trade union bosses will find it much harder to justify putting their vested interests ahead of the common good. Statists will find it harder to justify propping up failing state-owned entities.

The cost of above-inflation pay increases to non-frontline public servants is the lives and livelihoods that will be lost by not directing the billions saved to the healthcare, social welfare and small business sectors instead.

Not only that, but it could also cost us a loan from the IMF, since that institution will be reluctant to assist a country so drunk on patronage, especially when the queue for loans is so long and clamouring.

For exactly the same reasons, SAA should be closed immediately and the assets sold off when possible. There is no justification for spending the budgeted R16 billion to keep it going (subsidising public transport for the wealthy) when this money could rather be spent on saving lives and livelihoods. Unbelievably, this budget decision was coupled with a reduction of R3.9 billion in the healthcare budget. This is simply untenable.

The rank unfairness and irrationality of this trade-off decision is now clear for all to see. In fact, we must put an immediate stop to all further bailouts of failing state-owned enterprises. To protect unproductive jobs at the expense of people’s lives and the productive, value-creating economy at a time like this is unconscionable.

Nor can we justify delaying opening our energy market to full competition from independent producers. This will make electricity cheaper and more reliable, taking considerable pressure off households and businesses in the coming months and years.

Likewise, reforms to our rigid labour legislation are now urgent. Small businesses need maximum flexibility and freedom to adapt and survive in rapidly changing circumstances. Otherwise they are left with a straight choice between breaking the law and going bankrupt. It is in no-one’s interest that successful small businesses die during or because of this sudden-stop economic period.

President Ramaphosa has acknowledged the urgency of reform, saying to Finance Minister Mboweni on Monday: “We now need to move boldly on the structural reforms programme.”

If he does not follow words with action, history will judge him harshly. He may not have the full support of this own party, but he has strong cross-party support to push reforms through parliament. Never has the need for a political realignment been more urgent.

Nor the need for a capable state move evident. Perhaps the most important reform of all is to start appointing people to positions of leadership based on their ability to get the job done in the best interest of the general public. It beggars belief that someone as incompetent as Fikile Mbalula is our Minister of Transport.

If this moment of heightened risk and danger gets us to appoint better leaders, fix the fundamentals, and make better trade-off decisions, some good may yet come from this terrible, deadly pandemic.

The most immediate and looming trade-off decision the President will have to make is between an extended lockdown and economic activity. This will require great political courage, since the easier political choice will be to err on the side of avoiding deaths due directly to Covid-19, even at the expense of many more deaths due indirectly to the measures taken to suppress it.

South Africa would have had more room for manoeuvre had we made better decisions in the past. But this is no time for looking backwards. Now is the time to accept current realities and act swiftly to save lives and livelihoods.

DA mourns the passing of Conrad Sidego

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is deeply saddened by the passing of our former Stellenbosch Mayor, Conrad Sidego, at the age of 73 on Thursday afternoon.

Conrad was a a passionate and proud South African, who served his nation with great distinction.

He served as mayor of Stellenbosch between 2011 and 2016, and under his leadership and vision, Stellenbosch grew from strength to strength into one of the best run municipalities in the country. During his tenure as mayor, Stellenbosch received its first clean audit in years as well as many other accolades.

Sidego also had the distinct honour of being picked to serve as South Africa’s ambassador to Denmark in 1991.

He not only made his mark in the political arena, Conrad also stands out as a trailblazer in the field of journalism. He was Die Burger’s first reporter of colour and used this position to advocate for more diversity and inclusivity in the newsroom.

Sidego was indeed a dedicated servant of the people. He was not just a politician and journalists, he was also an educator, businessman and philanthropist who was committed to building an inclusive and non-racial South Africa.

Conrad is survived by his wife, Amy, and his two children.

The DA sends our heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones during this difficult times. May his soul rest in peace.

DA seeks clarity on Siza Mzimela’s appointment as Chief Executive of Transnet Freight Rail

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to Public Enterprises Minister, Pravin Gordhan to request information on the appointment of Siza Mzimela as Chief Executive of Transnet Freight Rail, just days after her resignation as acting CEO of SA Express was announced.

Mzimela’s appointment at such a critical state-owned enterprise (SOE) is bizarre considering that she only has aviation experience and lacks the requisite experience in the freight and rail sector.

The DA is, therefore, seeking transparency and clarity on the process which was followed to appoint Mzimela including whether there was a panel that oversaw the appointment process, the criteria for shortlisting candidates, and what the rationale behind Mzimela’s appointment was when she has zero experience in the field.

Mzimela’s appointment is a classic example of ANC cadre deployment – where ineffective executives hop from one SOE to another. Mzimela’s track record at the helm of an SOE is dismal, as is evident by the fact that her previous employer, SA Express, now faces liquidation.

South Africa’s economy has been downgraded to junk status, and the corruption and mismanagement of SOEs played a significant role in where we are today. Yet, the ANC seems committed to continuing to place party loyalists in prominent positions at the expense of service delivery and our economy.

DA launches WhatsApp line to report Police and Army abuse and advise the public

Today the Democratic Alliance (DA) launched a dedicated WhatsApp number (067 977 9324) and email address (reportpoliceabuse@da.org.za) where members of the public can report any acts of assault, abuse or bribery by law enforcement officers.

They can also send the DA their questions regarding their legal rights during the Covid-19 lockdown.

We will use these platforms to advise citizens on their rights and to raise and lodge their complaints with the relevant authorities and oversight bodies.

The WhatsApp number and email address will be monitored by a task team of DA MPs that form part of the security and justice clusters in Parliament. They are experts in their fields and will be able to provide expert advice to the South African public.

The nation is only six days into this lockdown and we have already seen increased violence at the hands of those who were tasked with protecting and serving us. On Tuesday, reports indicated that the police shot two nurses at the Bongani Regional Hospital in Welkom, and on Monday, an Ekurhuleni Metro police officer was arrested for allegedly shooting and killing a Vosloorus man while enforcing the lockdown.

There are numerous videos on social media showing police and army officers increasingly brutalizing and humiliating members of the public. Some South Africans were threatened and assaulted in their own backyards and while standing in line to buy the essentials. This is a gross abuse of the power entrusted to the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

That is why there is an urgent need for oversight and monitoring of SANDF’s deployment in the country, as well as the police’s conduct.

South Africa is a constitutional democracy and not a military state. We must adhere to the rule of law, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution at all times.

We remind law enforcement officials that this is a state of disaster, not a state of emergency. The role of the military is to ensure that lockdown measures are enforced while remembering that South Africans do have rights, even in these unprecedented times. These rights have been hard-fought for and must not be so flagrantly disregarded and disrespected by those few in uniforms that misunderstood their mandate.

We believe it is important for South Africans to adhere to the lockdown regulations and agree that those who do not comply should face the consequences of their actions within the law. However, we strongly condemn the brazen acts of violence, humiliation and degradation committed against our citizens.

It is these increased incidences of violence and brutality on the part of law enforcement officers, enforcing the lockdown, which strengthens our call for an ad hoc committee of Parliament to perform oversight of the Executive and ensure the protection of civil liberties during the lockdown.

The public can contact the DA on the following platforms for expert advice and to report incidents of abuse:

Please find attached English and Afrikaans graphics.

If Senzo Mchunu bends the knee before unions and ANC cadres, he must be fired

Please find attached a soundbite in English and Afrikaans by Dr. Leon Schreiber MP, DA Shadow Minister for Public Service and Administration

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa to fire the Minister for Public Service and Administration, Senzo Mchunu if he fails to cut the public wage bill by at least R37.8 billion in the 2020/21 financial year.

Mchunu was issued a clear instruction by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni during his February budget: cut the public wage bill by R37.8 billion in 2020/21, by R54.9 billion in 2021/22, and by R67.5 billion in 2022/23, totaling R160.2 billion.

The DA has consistently supported Minister Mboweni’s call for fiscal responsibility. That is why we have repeatedly submitted credible and costed proposals to the government on how to implement the cuts in a way that grants inflation-linked increases to all frontline service delivery heroes while freezing the bloated salaries of managers and administrators, and reducing the 29 000 millionaire managers in the public service by a third.

While the DA has consistently supported Mboweni, his own cabinet colleagues seem determined to throw him under the bus.

Minister Mchunu had one job – cut the public wage bill – and he looks set to fail spectacularly. Yesterday afternoon, Mchunu released a media statement indicating his intention to bend the knee before deranged public sector unions and ANC cadres. In the statement, Mchunu said that “Government remains committed to the implementation of the 2018 wage agreement.” This is the same wage agreement that granted outrageous salary increases to the 29 000 millionaire managers in the public service following a decade where salaries already increased by 66% after inflation.

What Mchunu is effectively saying is that he intends to ignore Mboweni in order to keep the ANC patronage machine in the public sector going at all costs – even if it condemns an entire generation of South Africans to debt servitude.

Even before the outbreak of the Coronavirus crisis, South Africa’s fiscal resources had been looted, mismanaged and squandered away under the ANC’s failed ideology of ever-expanding state control. With the added devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic and the downgrading of South Africa’s credit rating to junk last week by Moody’s, our country faces an all-out debt meltdown and the very real prospect of an economic depression.

In this context, if he ignores Mboweni’s instruction to cut the wage bill, Mchunu will be committing fiscal treason against the people of South Africa.

More than ever, our country needs decisive leadership that puts the interests of the country first, rather than spineless cowardice that only cares about lining the pockets of ANC cadres. Amidst all the anxiety and uncertainty of the present moment, South Africa deserves a government that puts our country first. We cannot for a second longer afford leaders, like Mchunu, who appear willing to sacrifice our country’s fiscal future just to protect the ill-gotten gains of cadres and their political allies in the public service.