Here are the DA’s level 4 lockdown proposals to save lives and livelihoods

On Monday, Democratic Alliance (DA) Leader, John Steenhuisen, submitted the Party’s inputs on the draft regulations of the risk-adjusted level 4 Covid-19 lockdown to the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Trade and Industry Minister, Ebrahim Patel.

The DA welcomed Government’s decision to ease the hard lockdown from level 5 to level 4, in accordance to the DA’s Smart Lockdown. We are however concerned that there has been no real evidence produced by Government on which the risk-adjusted strategy has been based.

This means that the decision to not open certain sectors of the economy have quite possibly not been based on research and fact, but rather on Government’s need to exert authority over South Africans.

We are of the view that there is a need for the economy to be opened across a much wider spectrum as Government’s draft regulations does not go far enough to prevent an economic meltdown post-lockdown.

The DA’s inputs on the draft regulations recognises the need for a lockdown to keep South Africans safe and healthy but also the socio-economic impact and the need to save livelihoods.

We believe that with sectoral agreed health protocols for each level, there is no reason why we cannot see a broader opening of the economy opposed to what has been put on the table by Government.

Here are some of the DA’s proposals on the draft risk-adjusted level 4 Covid-19 lockdown regulations:

  • No curfew. There has been rationale reason presented for this.
  • All shops allowed to open subject to mandatory health protocols, masks for all customers.
  • E-commerce able to sell all goods to consumers online.
  • Beauticians and hairdressers to be open subject to health protocols.
  • Screening regime and workplace testing stations in the manufacturing sector.
  • Transport of all goods allowed for export.
  • Mask wearing on all public transport as well as sanitising on entry and exit.
  • Car services allowed.
  • Outdoor exercise and dog walking allowed.
  • Alcohol sales allowed Mon-Fri until 3 pm. Limit on stock allowed to be bought.
  • All agriculture allowed subject to health protocols.
  • Mining activity to resume with the use of respirators, sanitised transport, and deep cleaning of residential units.
  • Construction sites allowed to be open (similar to open-cast mining due to the open nature of the site).
  • R1000 top-up for all grant receivers as opposed to caregivers only.

A full document on the DA’s inputs and comparison between National Government and the DA’s proposals can be accessed here.

Who is footing the bill for Cuban doctor programme?

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on the Department of Health to clarify the true cost of the Cuban doctors’ deployment which is said to be nearly R440 million as well as who will be footing the bill?

Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, attempted to explain the rationale for obtaining foreign aid during a press conference last night however many questions remain unanswered.

Chief among these is where this R440 million will be coming from and whether this is a justifiable use of public resources.

I have submitted parliamentary questions to obtain this information urgently.

Information that we have suggests that National Treasury is looking to the provinces that will be getting Cuban health doctors allocated to them to fund the endeavor. Many provinces are stretched to their absolute limits with many unfilled critical vacancies. It would be irresponsible to expect funds to be redirected to funding the deployment of these doctors.

In addition, many other questions remain unanswered. These are:

  • Was a skills audit done in the country to find out what critical skills were needed that the local health professionals did not have;
  • Did this audit inform which specialists were requested from Cuba;
  • Is the alleged R440 million a prudent use of limited resources in fighting this pandemic; and
  • Why were health professionals’ bodies not consulted about the move so that they can assist in ensuring all South Africa professionals are in fact used sufficiently in the fight against this pandemic;

Every effort must be made to wage a fight against the spread of this pandemic. Additionally, we welcome any additional resources being provided. However, we must make sure that South African health professionals are not being overlooked in the Covid-19 strategy. We need to ensure that every doctor, specialist and any other needed health professional is put to work as a priority before any other healthcare worker from elsewhere in the world.

This is why urgent clarity is needed from Dr Mkhize.

DA to challenge government’s race-based Covid relief for SMMEs in court

The DA has given the Minister for Small Business Development, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, until 17:00 today, Wednesday 29 April 2020, to clarify her statements regarding the use of B-BBEE as evaluating criteria for government’s SMME Debt Relief Fund. If she does not respond satisfactorily by this deadline, the DA will take legal steps to ensure that all South Africans are treated equally in qualifying for government’s Covid-19 relief measures.

This follows the minister’s about-turn yesterday during a joint meeting of the Portfolio and Select Committees for Small Business Development where, upon being questioned by DA MP Tim Brauteseth, she confirmed that all applications to the SMME Debt Relief Fund would be evaluated using B-BBEE principles. Earlier, similar selective, race-based relief criteria were announced for both the tourism and agriculture sectors.

On 24 March Minister Ntshavheni dismissed reports of race-based Covid relief for SMMEs as “fake news” following a leaked document indicating this requirement. However it soon became clear that the document was not fake, and was confirmed to have been an earlier draft of the Department’s proposed regulations. The Department quickly assured South Africans that all applicants would be considered equally, regardless of race.

Yesterday’s about-turn by the minister makes a mockery of government’s SMME relief measures, and is an insult to thousands of struggling small business owners who not only contribute hundreds of millions of Rands in tax revenue, but who also employ thousands of people who now stand to lose their jobs, many of whom are black.

It also makes a mockery of the President’s appeal for unity in the fight to overcome this pandemic and its economic effects. These ministers who are intent on excluding South Africans from emergency relief measures because of the colour of their skin represent President Ramaphosa and his government. Unless he calls them to order and reverses this decision, it must be understood that this is indeed his position too. South Africans need to know where he stands on this.

Our lawyers wrote to Minister Ntshavheni on 10 April seeking clarification on whether or not the race of business owners and their employees is relevant to the distribution of funds, as this information is required on the application form on her Department’s website. She is yet to respond to this request.

Following her comments yesterday, it is crucial that the minister explain, as a matter of urgency, how race will be considered in evaluating applications, or what the legal basis is for making race a criterion in awarding disaster relief funding. Specifically, we want the minister to answer the following by 17:00 today:

  1. In terms of what law or policy is race considered in the evaluation of applications?
  2. What role does race play in evaluating applications for relief?

If we do not receive a satisfactory answer by this deadline, the DA will approach the High Court for appropriate, urgent relief to prevent the unlawful use of race in relation to Covid-19 funds, and unfair discrimination on the basis of race.

DA calls on Minister De Lille to brief Parliament on Beitbridge ‘washing line’

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure to request that the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Patricia de Lille, is invited to brief Parliament on the procurement process that was followed in the Beitbridge Border fence scandal.

When asked about the matter in Tuesday’s Home Affairs Portfolio Committee meeting, Minister Aaron Motsoaledi failed to give any clarity and referred the matter back to the Minister of Public Works to clarify.

It has widely been reported that the border fence at Beitbridge is laughably inadequate and many questions have been raised about the process used to appoint the contractor responsible for building what can only be described as a “washing line” to keep Covid-19 from reaching South Africa from Zimbabwe.

The DA submitted Parliamentary questions ​to the Minister on 24 April around the appointment of the contractor, as well as the specifications of the fence and the value for money that our taxpayers have received.

The Minister has a responsibility to the public to account to Parliament on her handling of the entire Beitbridge Border fence debacle.

This fence sports a price tag of R37 million for the 40 km of fencing in need of repairs. If the money is not optimally spent to build a fence that will last lifetimes, it can be used to fill other holes that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light. There must therefore be no delay in getting clarification around the controversy surrounding the fence.

Three key questions for Minister Nxesi on UIF

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, asking him to answer three key questions as the fiasco mounts at the embattled Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).

Yesterday, Minister Nxesi suggested that many employers were withholding UIF benefits from workers on the pretext that the UIF had failed to indicate how the benefits should be allocated. He lambasted employers, saying, “They must just be honest, we [UIF] don’t just pay, we pay based on the payroll”.

This is patently untrue. The Minister is trying to scapegoat employers for the UIF’s own administrative errors. The fact is that many lump-sum payments have been made to employers in terms of the Covid-19 Ters benefit with no regard whatsoever for the company’s payroll.

Many employers report receiving a payment breakdown that allocates and misallocates funds to individual employees without rhyme or reason.

Minister Nxesi urgently needs to answer the following questions instead of trying to shift blame onto employers, most of whom just want to give their employees their full dues as they struggle to put food on the table at month-end.

Firstly, why are the claims on behalf of so many foreign national workers being rejected by the Covid-19 Ters scheme, when they are fully UIF-compliant?

Secondly, how exactly is SARS assisting the UIF to process and pay the Covid-19 Ters benefit? There seems to be no marriage of information between the UIF and SARS. Some companies report that up to two-thirds of their workforce have not benefited from the Covid-19 Ters scheme, even though every single worker is on the company’s payroll, they are tax-compliant companies, and they are able to furnish all the necessary EMP201 declarations that have already been submitted to SARS.

Thirdly, in many instances, the UIF has paid no benefit on the grounds that the company’s salary contribution exceeds the UIF income replacement benefit. However, in terms of Clause 5.3 of the Amended Directive issued by the UIF Commissioner on 8 April 2020, the payment should be the UIF benefit (as per clause 3.6) plus the company’s contribution provided that it is not more than the employee’s normal salary. It would seem that the UIF has processed these claims incorrectly and is not acting in line with the clear wording and intention of the Directive.

Over and above providing answers to these questions, the Minister must act to sort out the IT- and communications problems plaguing the UIF. Many employers cannot access the Covid-19 Ters website because it is constantly down. To make matters worse, phone calls and emails go unanswered.

Minister Nxesi must act swiftly to steady the ship at the UIF before it runs aground.

DA exposes Govt’s BBBEE criteria for small business funding

Please find attached a recording of the Minister Ntshavheni can be accessed here.

The Minister for Small Business Development, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni dropped a bomb in Parliament yesterday when she confirming that BBBEE was an evaluating criteria for applications to Government’s SMME Debt Relief Fund.

The Minister made her admission during a joint meeting of the Portfolio and Select Committees for Small Business Development on Tuesday after I had asked her to clear up the confusion and to clarify, once and for all whether or not BBBEE criteria were used in determining relief measures for small businesses in South Africa.

Ntshavheni aggressively specified that ‘BBBEE is a fundamental requirement for transforming the economy of this country. We cannot choose as and when we use it’. The Minister then went on to explain that all applications to the SMME Debt Relief Fund were evaluated using BBBEE principles.

This admission is at odds with previous utterances by the same Minister. When the first lockdown was announced, a leaked document clearly indicated that BBBEE criteria would be used to determine the beneficiaries of relief. The DA immediately intervened and the government moved swiftly to assure South Africa that all applications would be treated on an equal basis, regardless of the race of the applicant.

The public utterances by the Minister yesterday show that the ANC smoke and mirrors department is in full swing and that businesses affected by the Covid- 19 lockdown cannot rely on Government for fair and equal treatment.

It is morally bankrupt that the ANC Government would seek to discriminate and exclude any individual from accessing relief during a crisis period. The global pandemic calls for all of us as South Africans to work together and not for Government to discriminate against certain South Africans based on race.

The DA will continue to hold the Government to account during this pandemic and ensure that they work for and serve all South Africans, regardless of race.

The DA Leader, John Steenhuisen, will soon announce the action that the DA will take in this regard.

DA proposes a Smart Lockdown Level 4 based on trust, transparency and freedom

South Africa needs a much wider opening of the economy than suggested by government’s Level 4 lockdown proposals. The DA has submitted our Level 4 proposals for how to open more of the economy without compromising public safety.

Government’s approach to specifying who can and cannot work in Level 4 is unnecessarily blunt and restrictive. Many businesses which could be operating without significantly increasing the spread of the virus will be forced to remain closed.

This will do unnecessary damage to jobs and tax revenue – and to public compliance and confidence in the system – and soon render government’s approach unsustainable.

The only condition for a business to operate should be that it has, or can achieve, an acceptably low potential for spreading the virus.

Obviously, Level 4 sets a higher bar for “acceptable” than would a lower level. Recall that the lockdown levels indicate the level of threat posed by the virus. The DA’s Smart Lockdown proposes that for each lockdown level, government should specify the requirements for a business to be able to operate. Businesses can then decide if they are willing or able to meet those. They may choose to invest in the required mitigation measures, for example arranging private transport for staff, buying protective equipment, temperature screening staff/customers on entrance.

This way, government is putting decision-making power in the hands of those people who know and care most about each individual business: its employers, employees and customers. This approach harnesses the creativity, incentives and goodwill of everyone, within a reasonable set of rules.

Instead, government seems intent on centralising draconian powers in the hands of incapable ministers. The result is arbitrary rules enforced by military deployment.

Military deployment and military-backed curfews to ensure compliance are a tacit admission by government that the rules are not reasonable and that people and businesses cannot be trusted to act in their own best interest.

Under government’s Level 4, for example, no hairdresser may legally operate and no one can get a haircut, no matter how many precautions they take to reduce the risk of transmission. Under the DA Smart Lockdown Level 4, a hairdresser could operate as soon as a reasonable set of safety measures is in place. These safety measures would be quite demanding, given that Level 4 indicates a high level of risk. But they would not be insurmountable.

If people and businesses are empowered with information about the risk that the virus poses to themselves and their community, and how that can be mitigated, most will play by a reasonable set of rules. Indeed, an HSRC survey indicated 99% compliance in the first weeks of lockdown.

An authoritarian approach made sense initially, but as time goes on decision-making power needs to become more dispersed, within a given set of justified rules. If rules are reasonable, people tend to follow them. And those who don’t will be kept in line through peer pressure and whistle-blowing.

Compliance requires a good reason for the rule. The fact is, government is imposing harsh rules backed by military force and requiring a massive sacrifice from people without having given us a comprehensive enough justification.

Right now 25% of South Africans do not have money for food. If Level 4 is much the same as Level 5, ultimately more people may suffer and die from lockdown than from Covid-19. Remember, we’re going into the marathon phase of our covid-response – our strategy for controlling the virus has to be sustainable over an 18-24 month timeframe.

Government is demanding enormous economic and civil liberty sacrifices but has yet to share with us the epidemiological assumptions and calculations underpinning SA’s response to this virus, let alone any district-specific detail on the case, testing, hospital capacity and other data that feed into a determination of lockdown levels.

The DA has submitted a request for transparency, supplying specific information that we think should be shared with people by way of published dashboards. Compliance will be much higher in a transparent environment where the rules are reasonable, justified, and aligned to people’s natural incentives.

An 8pm to 5am military curfew is none of these things. It demonstrates a lack of trust in the people of South Africa to take individual responsibility for their own safety. The DA has submitted our position on a military curfew.

Ultimately, more social freedom and a wider opening of the economy using a Smart Lockdown approach based on trust, transparency and individual empowerment is in South Africa’s best interest.

Level 4 Lockdown: DA proposes wider opening of the economy

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has today submitted our comments to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Trade & Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel in response to their request for comments around the Draft Framework for Sectors – Level 4 only – of their risk-adjusted strategy. We submitted two documents, one responding to their Level 4 proposals (including two attachments) and the other to their proposal for a curfew.

The move to Level 4 of the lockdown was meant to allow for a greater level of economic activity, but there is far too little to distinguish Level 4 from Level 5, and thus Level 4 inadequately balances the looming economic crisis.

The DA supports a much wider opening of the economy. Firstly, there is no evidence to say why this should not happen. There has been little to no transparency around the data or analysis being used to guide government’s response. Secondly, a wider opening can still achieve the same level of public safety if the government changes its approach from one based on force to one based on trust.

Furthermore, government has taken the approach of state control using force, choosing to centralise draconian powers in the hands of incapable ministers and enforce compliance by deploying 75 000 ill-trained South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members, many armed with live ammunition. Instead, it should be providing direction by harnessing the creativity, incentives and goodwill of everyone, within a reasonable set of rules.

At the heart of both our submissions lies the clear lack of trust on the part of government towards citizens. This supposed move to a “softer” version of lockdown has exposed the fact that government does not trust citizens and stakeholders to make a smart lockdown work. It does not trust them to make sensible decisions in the workplace, it does not trust them with the data on which it supposedly bases its decisions around the lifting or imposition of restrictions, and it doesn’t trust them with their personal movement and physical distancing.

The DA supported the initial call for a hard lockdown of the country and economy. It was the right thing to do, given the urgent need for time to prepare our healthcare response to the imminent threat of the pandemic. We also supported, in principle, the announcement last week of a move towards a softer phase of this lockdown to allow for some economic activity to return and for people to return to work. This was in line with our consistent call for the protection of lives and the protection of livelihoods to be carefully balanced.

We did, however, state that we would reserve further comment until we had seen the details of this risk-adjusted, phased approach. And it is indeed in the details where it has become clear that this is nowhere near the opening of the economy that is required.

Regarding what government has called “System 1” – the alert system that determines which level of restriction should apply nationally, in provinces and in districts – there is simply no way for anyone to know why a decision to move up or down between the levels is taken because the full data is not known. These decisions must be based on accurate, localised data on both community transmission as well as healthcare capacity, and yet government does not make this data publicly available. It expects citizens to trust its decisions, but it does not trust citizens with the information.

The DA has consistently called for the regular publication of this data, ever since the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in South Africa on 5 March. We sent the Presidency the requirements for such a data dashboard. If government wants buy-in and compliance, it must return the trust.

The classification of industries that are allowed to trade under this supposed softer level of lockdown – what government calls “System 2” – also has fundamental flaws. Firstly, it is far too incremental. In other words, there is not nearly enough of a difference between levels 5 and 4, and there will be no meaningful increase in economic activity, leaving millions locked out and destitute.

Secondly, the sector-wide approach, where the risk assessment is applied to an entire industry and not the many and varied types of businesses inside that sector, is far too blunt a tool for the job.

And thirdly, the criteria whereby industries can return to work are too subjective. While we agree that having an acceptably low transmission risk is crucial, the second and third criteria – whether a business is “of critical value to the economy”” and whether it is “under severe near-term economic stress” – leave far too much room for subjective interpretation. If it is the risk of transmission that is keeping the economy closed down, then surely only the first criteria should matter. All businesses are of critical importance to the economy and most of them are under economic stress. If they can operate safely, they should be allowed to open.

Our second submission, dealing with the unjustified imposition of a curfew, could not have happened on a more symbolic day. As we awake to the news on Freedom Day that thousands of prisoners are to be released from jail and granted the freedom to terrorise South Africans, responsible citizens will now be subject to a curfew enforced by 75 000 soldiers.

The DA is alarmed by the lack of trust demonstrated by the government in the people of South Africa through the imposition of this curfew, likely backed by military force. This is an extraordinary limitation of civil liberties that should meet an extraordinarily high threshold before it can be justified. It does not meet that threshold in this case, and the DA is vehemently opposed to the curfew as a matter of principle.

Research by the Human Sciences Research Council showed that, during the first month of hard lockdown, 99% of citizens did comply with the lockdown regulations. This shows that the people deserve to be trusted, not coerced. However, mere days before the curfew was announced for the first time, South Africans learned that the government had resolved to deploy an additional 73 180 soldiers onto the country’s streets, bringing the total number of soldiers deployed to 75 460. This means that nearly the entire South African National Defence Force (SANDF) will be on the streets of our communities.

It is therefore highly likely that the SANDF will be used to enforce the curfew between 20:00 and 05:00 every night. This would mean that soldiers are granted the discretionary power to decide whether someone who travels between 20:00 and 05:00 faces a bona fide medical emergency or is performing an essential service. This grants far too wide a scope of powers to the SANDF.

Given that we have already witnessed horrendous acts of abuse, torture and even alleged murder by the SANDF when only 2 280 soldiers were deployed, the use of nearly the entire military to enforce the curfew is likely to unleash a wave of abuses by the security forces.

Instead of a military curfew, we need to dramatically enhance social mobilisation efforts through education and raising awareness. There is no need for militarisation and a formal curfew when citizens understand and trust the need for the limitations on freedom of movement. No amount of force or coercion will bolster compliance in the absence of understanding and trust.

If the government fails to heed our warning to rescind the planned enforcement of a military curfew, the DA reserves our right to challenge the move in court, because we place our trust in citizens rather than in coercion.

DA calls on SAA BRP’s to act as required by the Companies Act

In a letter that the Democratic Alliance (DA) has seen, the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, calls for a moratorium on the retrenchment of South African Airways (SAA) employees. This follows the Minister’s meeting with representatives of the unions and non-unionised employees of SAA, and represents an attempt to “save” SAA.

The DA has the deepest respect and sympathy for the employees of SAA who now face an uncertain future and every effort should be made to afford them a fair retrenchment package.

But it is now time for Minister Gordhan to remove himself from this process and allow Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, the SAA business rescue practitioners (BRPs) to do the work and make the decisions that they are mandated to do. According to the Companies Act, 71 of 2008, it is the business rescue practitioner’s responsibility to carry out the business rescue process.

Over a period of some five months Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, the BRPs, have repeatedly delayed producing a business rescue plan and it seems have squandered another R5.5 billion in taxpayer bailouts. The fees paid to the business rescue practitioners and consultants/associates is reported to amount to an average of R 60 million per month. We await a reply to a parliamentary question that has been submitted to the Minister to confirm whether or not our information regarding the R 60 million per month is correct.

Unless there are private investors knocking at the door, the liquidation of the cash strapped SAA is inevitable and the procrastination on the part of the BRP’s will only extend the enormous costs of the business rescue process. Any effort that keeps wasting money on a dysfunctional business entity like SAA will be a betrayal to all South Africans who have to contend with high levels of unemployment and a floundering economy.

The Democratic Alliance has requested a legal opinion on what action can be taken to ensure that BRP’s, Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, can be held accountable for and can be forced to follow the provisions of sections 128 to 155 of the Companies Act (71 of 2008).

DA welcomes announcement for tabling of emergency budget

On 28 March 2020, a day after Moody’s had downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to junk and the Covid-19 had started wreaking havoc in the economy, the Democratic Alliance (DA) called for the tabling of a new emergency budget. This was necessary because none of the revenue and growth assumptions on which the February budget was based were still valid. Revenue and growth projections had collapsed.

We, therefore, welcome the announcement by Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, today to table a new supplementary budget to reflect South Africa’s changed fiscal reality.

Mboweni’s new budget should detail where the government has cut R130 billion in spending to fund part of the R500 billion economic support package. The budget should also be bold enough to cut bailouts to zombie state owned entities, and set the economy on a path of meaningful structural reform.

Minister Mboweni should also use the budget presentation to lay out the details of loan applications and their accompanying loan terms from international finance institutions like the IMF. 

The DA is ready and willing to work together with Treasury in finding solutions that will get the economy working again for the benefit of all South Africans.