Open letter to President Ramaphosa: It’s time to fire Minister Zulu

Dear Mr President

The Covid-19 pandemic caught the entire globe by surprise, and despite this, South Africans willingly joined the fight back in March.

The pandemic has had severe effects on the populations of the world – economic collapse, hunger, and poverty have been exacerbated in countries already struggling with internal issues such as inequality, high unemployment rates, corruption, mismanagement, looting and last but not least, a lack of political will. This is the nub of my letter to you.

By the time you announced the lockdown, signs of crippling poverty, hunger, and unemployment had already been hogging headlines. Millions of people were food insecure even before the announcement of the initial Covid-19 lockdown of 21 days. Back then, one of the few things that South Africans were allowed to do, was leave their homes to access their SASSA grants.

It therefore never made sense, Mr President, for SASSA offices to be completely closed during the lockdown when it is an agency of Government that is critical in implementing the Disaster Management Act (DMA).

The Democratic Alliance (DA) called for SASSA offices to be prioritized for personal protective equipment (PPE) and be opened immediately when cries could be heard from disability grant applicants, from mothers who had just given birth, from those who had just turned 60 and had hopes of staving off hunger by applying for the Old Age Grant, these sectors of society were devastated.

We appealed to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, but sadly these appeals fell on deaf ears.

I was one of those South Africans and public representatives who heaved a sigh of relief when you made the announcement to aid the many millions of unemployed via the special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant of R350.

This money, along with the desperately needed food parcels, would go a long way in relieving hunger for many families in distress.

However, applications for the grant were to be submitted through online platforms, and therefore applicants would need access to a phone/gadget, airtime, know how, etc.

South Africa is a country where unemployment has hit the rural, remote part of the country hard – which is where the SASSA offices come in handy for the poor and vulnerable, and where access to the necessary technology to apply for the grants are not a given. In a bid to circumvent these challenges, Minister Lindiwe Zulu announced that volunteers from government agencies such as the National Development Agency (NDA) and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) would be deployed in rural areas to help those who could not apply. These volunteers were to be trained and given gadgets to help applicants access the unemployment grant. To this day, I have not heard of a single volunteer who has helped SRD grant applicants access the grant.

What in fact happened was that SASSA offices, with already trained staff who were earning their salaries and who could be equipped with protective gear, were closed and desperate potential beneficiaries were not able to take advantage of Government’s otherwise welcome intervention. Armed with this reality, the DA again called for the SASSA offices to be opened – to no avail.

Public Representatives and ordinary South Africans came to the rescue by applying on behalf of the unemployed – as the system allowed this. Why did Minister Zulu not open the SASSA offices?

Almost three weeks after the announcement of the grant, only 10 applicants received their grant. To date, there are still vulnerable South Africans who have not received this grant because of supposed “systems glitches”, lack of proper communications to the applicants about how the system works, SASSA call centres simply not functioning and again, the sad and tragic lack of political will.

Minister Zulu and the CEO of SASSA, Busisiwe Memela-Khambula, have given long-winded explanations of why people have not received the grant, yet no solutions to how they can receive it to put food on the table for their families.

The government food parcel saga has been widely reported on. The Minister seems to have no way or will of ensuring that public representatives and officials do what they are supposed to do other than stealing food parcels meant to support the poor and vulnerable.

We urged the Minister and her Department to launch an investigation into the brazen theft of food parcels by the politically connected, and again these calls were met with arrogance and ignored.

Instead of investigating the looting and supporting efforts by good Samaritans to feed the poor, the Minister instead thought it wise to block food distribution by NGOs that have been doing this work for years, with her now-infamous draft regulations. With one stroke of her pen, the Minister halted the entire country’s efforts to assist the poor, as people were harassed by SAPS, had their permits confiscated, were loaded in police vans, and had their food taken away.

This is all due to a Minister who was preaching partnership among all stakeholders to deal with what was, and still is, a food insecurity crisis. It is for these reasons, Mr President, that I strongly believe that there is a lack of political will on the part of the Minister to address the plight of the poor – something I find deeply concerning.

I am reminded of the Minister’s selfish comment that she made in the early days of the lockdown, when she said, “stay at home if you can, I am finding it hard to stay at home! Virus, leave us alone, we have a life to live”. The poor and vulnerable that the Minister has the honour to serve, were nowhere in her mind then, and they don’t seem to be now, which just means that she has no interest in serving these persons.

It would take the DA and NGOs turning to the courts for the Minister, who asked South Africans to partner with Government in feeding the poor, to allow these same South Africans and NGOs to distribute food to the millions of desperate people. According to the Department of Social Development’s (DSD) own presentations, more and more South Africans are joining the ranks of the food insecure and this situation is set to get worse as the lockdown continues and even after it is lifted.

There has not, according to presentations to the portfolio committee on Social Development, been any concrete plans to address the food insecurity matter, other than inviting South Africans to partner with the Department.

Then there was the challenge with the Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres that left these centres in the dark as to their reopening and left hundreds of thousands of mothers worried about where they will leave their children as more sections of the economy started to reopen.

The Minister would only have her first meeting with the sector on 26 May to create work streams that would work on how to move forward in the sector. Again, the sector had to approach the courts for it to have any chance of knowing where it was headed.

For many centres, the reopening of the sector came too late, as many had to close their doors permanently. All because the Minister seemingly had no desire to listen to their pleas.

The above and many other matters are indicative of a Minister who is obsessed with power, is out of touch with the challenges facing the people she has been mandated to serve, will do anything to show that the buck stops with her – no matter how that affects the poor and vulnerable, about who the Constitution is very clear – they have a right to food, and children have a right to education.

Surely a Minister who took pride in her mandate and whose Department has a very unfortunate history of being run by the courts, would do everything in her power to ensure she changes this precedent.

In the spirit of protecting the poor and the vulnerable from their rights being further violated and giving them access to services and resources budgeted for, and saving Government money lost through cost orders, I ask you, Mr President, to relieve Minister Lindiwe Zulu from her duty as Minister of Social Development immediately and find a Minister who will bring some dignity and fortitude to this vital Department by ensuring that those it’s mandated to protect and serve are being taken care of.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court

DA seeks answers as Gauteng quarantine facilities have no medical staff to assist repatriated citizens

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on the National and Gauteng Departments of Health to explain the quagmire of new problems besetting mandatory quarantine for repatriated citizens entering South Africa. It has recently come to light that the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) failed to renew its contract with an NGO that supplies medical staff – primarily nurses – at more than 40 privately-run quarantine sites in Gauteng. The GDoH was to have assumed responsibility for ensuring that nursing staff be provided to quarantine sites once the contract lapsed on Friday, 31 July 2020, however, to date, this has not materialised at a single site.

Instead, on Friday, all the privately-run quarantine sites in the province received a message from GDoH’s Johan van Coller, stating that “at 16h00 there will be no nurses at the NDoH quarantine sites. The contract with the NGO that was supplying the nurses came to an end. Please raise your concerns with the NDoH [National Department of Health], Mr Khosa and Mr Mahlangu, due to [the fact] that the sites are run through the NDoH not the GDoH.” Van Coller went on to describe that his role was to provide statistics and information to the GDoH and to the NDoH, not to be involved in the procurement of nursing staff.

Since then, no medical personnel have been available at private quarantine sites contracted by the NDoH and the GDoH. The situation has become so worrisome for some facilities that they have resorted to hiring their own medical staff – both nurses and doctors – at a cost of R290 490 for four nurses every 14 days to ensure that appropriate medical care can be provided to citizens in their care.

This disaster coincides with a communique issued by the NDoH on 22 July 2020, that repatriated citizens could apply to self-quarantine prior to their return to South Africa. The Department also extended the option to those repatriated citizens currently in quarantine facilities, and who meet the criteria to self-quarantine at home. A form could be downloaded from the website and submitted to the NDoH for evaluation.

The self-quarantine process has now become a total nightmare as there is currently hundreds of applications awaiting approval. In addition to the backlog, applications are seemingly not being equitably evaluated. Some successful applicants received an email simply signed “Kind Regards, The Quarantine Team”. As this was not on an NDoH or GDoH letterhead, port health authorities were questioning the authenticity of the email and refusing citizens’ self-quarantine options.

The DA has been inundated with queries regarding the self-quarantine process – and our requests for assistance from NDoH have gone unanswered. We will, however, continue to place pressure on both the National and Gauteng Department of Health seeking clarity regarding their shambolic handling of the self-quarantine process.

The DA will continue to push for transparency and open communication from Government on its poor management of quarantine facilities in Gauteng, as well as its chaotic handling of those wanting to self-quarantine at home.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court

Rip-off beds for Nasrec field hospital

The Gauteng health department spent R13 000 for each bed in the NASREC field hospital but could easily have bought them for less than half the price from other suppliers.

See here for a photo of the bed at NASREC and here for prices paid for these beds and other items.

According to a presentation to the Gauteng Legislature’s Health Committee, 1000 beds with mattresses were bought for R13 million, with each bed costing R13 000.

I have established that a fair price for this type of bed together with a mattress is about R5000.

This highlights yet again how the department is being ripped off by a poor and possibly corrupt choice of supplier, probably a middleman with an outrageous markup.

The total cost of equipment for the NASREC field hospital is R24.1 million, which is also likely to be about double what it should have cost. It includes, for instance, R18 000 spent on 40 wall clocks for R450 each.

I hope that the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is investigating these contracts and the Competition Commission should also probe these prices and attempt to recover money from over-priced items.

Opinion | At last, a glimmer of hope as Eskom begins to recover ‘lost’ billions

While R3,8bn is relatively small beer given Eskom’s debt which is currently north of R450bn, the issuing of summonses against 12 people accused of helping loot the utility sends a much-needed and long-awaited message to the lengthy list of crooks who have defrauded state-owned enterprises over many lucrative years.

Barely a day after the dawn of the new year, Mandy Wiener, writing for News24, asked whether 2020 was going to be the year of prosecutions for South Africa.

Following on from these high expectations some six months later, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) appears to have worked through the evidence and forensics to file summons in the North Gauteng High Court to recover R3.8-billion that was diverted from Eskom “to help the Gupta family and its associates acquire the operations of OVH, which owned Optimum Coal Mining”. If this is anything to go by, a number of prosecutions may well follow.

Eskom has listed 12 defendants in the current case – including the Guptas and their partners in crime, a former minister, former Eskom executives and a number of board members – which seeks to recover the R3,8-billion the utility suffered in associated losses.

While R3,8-billion is relatively small beer given that Eskom’s debt is currently north of R450-billion, give or take a billion or two, it does send a much-needed and long-awaited message to the lengthy list of crooks who have defrauded state-owned enterprises (SOEs) over many lucrative years.

Over and above this  clawback from the past, what is required across all SOEs and government departments is an emulation of the DA-run Western Cape provincial treasury, which has released the first-ever “Procurement Disclosure Report” detailing all personal protective equipment bought and paid for by the Western Cape government in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The report has been made available to the public.

The province’s Finance and Economic Opportunities MEC, David Maynier, explained that “this report is the first of its kind. It discloses in detail the procurement of PPE and it provides significant transparency… it goes a long way to mitigate risks in the procurement system. So at the end of the day, we can ensure that the vultures who feed on Covid-19 do not settle in the Western Cape.”

While Maynier’s remit is the Western Cape, in the wake of the exceedingly muddy waters churned up by the rapacious engine of the ANC in Covid-19 procurement structures across the country, this most welcome exercise in government transparency – if implemented more broadly across the nation – may well go a long way to securing a better future while the rogues of the past are brought to book.

In the same early January article, Wiener said, “there is only so much the executive can do to assure citizens and prospective investors that there is change and that there is no room for the corrupt and crooked. An effective, efficient and independent NPA, bringing the high-profile State Capture accused to book, will have a massive effect on public sentiment”. Later that same week, I concurred in my capacity as shadow minister, Public Enterprises, and further called for “full transparency, full forensic audits, the institution of rotating tier-1 audit firms and a halt to (this) profligacy at the expense of consumers”. These are the measures that are called for.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) lists three generally agreed upon principles that underpin good governance: accountability, meaning that it is possible to identify and hold public officials to account for their actions; transparency, meaning that reliable, timely and relevant information about the activities of government is available to the public; and openness, meaning that governments listen to citizens and businesses, and take their suggestions into account when designing and implementing public policies.

Half the problem with our SOEs is that simple, honest, accepted and essentially commonsense tenets like the OECD principles have not been adhered to. Instead, the manner in which our SOEs have been run have been shrouded in secrecy and rooted in a command and control culture. Hardly a surprise then, that tenders, procurement and key contracts shrouded from the public gaze, led to runaway opportunities for graft.

If government is able to separate and sever the interests of party and state and embrace an openness that has hitherto not even been paid lip service, we might begin to drain the swamp that chokes the flow of our fiscus. 

The jury is out on the matter but the pulse of the media – both social and mainstream – appears to indicate an increasing arrhythmia when it comes to measuring the ongoing acquiescence of citizens, investors and other key players. This cannot be seen to be a show trial organised by a government in order to have an effect on public opinion and reduce political opposition – not that the SIU and the prosecuting authorities are in any way complicit.

The modus operandi, that began with the nefarious Arms Deal in 1999 and continued ever since, needs to change. The question is: can it? 

DA welcomes Eskom, SIU summons to recover stolen state capture funds

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the move by Eskom and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to issue summons in a bid to recover the more than R3.8 billion in stolen funds from the State-Owned Enterprise’s (SOE) former executives, non-executive directors and the Gupta-family.

The DA has long called for SIU reports regarding the looting at the power utility to be made public, and for money stolen to be recovered and the guilty parties to face the full extent of the law. That an attempt is made to finally get back some of the billions stolen, is most certainly a step in the right direction.

In a statement Eskom said of the 12 accused, “All of the former executives and board members breached their fiduciary duty of care and good faith to Eskom, and acted in a concerted state-capture effort, with the Gupta brothers, Mosebenzi Zwane and Salim Aziz Essa to illegally divert funds from Eskom.”

The fact is that the Guptas and their cronies happily bled South Africa dry, and their heinous actions contributed directly to the economic regression the country has suffered, in part due to unreliable power generation.

For too long a blind eye has been turned to the corrupt dealings at Eskom with its resources being treated as a personal piggy bank by those seeking to capture the SOE for nefarious purposes.

With new evidence of corruption being brought to light every day, these summons should serve as a warning to looters and capturers that though the wheels of justice sometimes turn slowly, and despite the many rocks thrown in its path, the wheels do turn. The DA will never stop fighting for the corrupt to be brought to justice, and it’s encouraging to see we are not alone in this fight.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court

DA welcomes reopening of Covid-19 relief fund applications and calls for improved transparency 

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is pleased by the announcement by the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, that his Department will open a second wave of applications to the Covid-19 Relief Fund for Arts and Sports and that plans are in place to make payments to beneficiaries.

According to the Minister, the relief is set at R2 200 per month, from September to November 2020.

This is a welcome development, one that the DA has been calling for, and one which will allow those who were unsuccessful or missed the deadline in the previous round a new and hopefully fair opportunity to access much-needed funding.

During the initial applications process, the DA received complaints from several applicants who initially qualified for relief aid from the Fund but has yet to receive a cent. They were unhappy with the way in which the Department handled the application process. Many spoke to the lack of transparency and clarity on the criteria used to decide the amounts paid out and who it is paid out to.

We certainly hope that this time around the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture will have learnt from the mistakes and the application process will not be hampered by delayed payments, and a lack of transparency.

The DA further welcomes the injection by the Solidarity Fund of R7 million towards food vouchers for athletes, artists, freelancers, and other eligible practitioners.

We call for clarity on how the Department plans to work together with provinces to develop a list of deserving beneficiaries to receive vouchers and for Minister Mthethwa to ensure that these vouchers are used for the benefit of the men and women in the sports and arts sector, and not as a handout to connected ANC cronies.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court

Magashule family contracts – Ramaphosa’s integrity at stake

I have written a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa requesting him to act regarding the allocation of Covid-19 tenders to the sons of ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule as part of his public commitment to act against malfeasance relating to Covid-19 contracts.

Two sons of the ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule received contracts to supply Covid-19 related products to the Free State Provincial Government. Motheko Projects, whose director is Tshepiso Magashule, provided liquid soap and masks to the value of R2.290.000.00 while Marvel Deeds, whose director is Thato Magashule, provided hand sanitizers to the value of R427.221.00.

While the Free State Provincial Government and Mr Magashule indicate that there is nothing wrong with the allocation of these contracts, the DA is of the opinion that Mr Magahsule holds extensive influence over officials who allocate tenders in the Free State.

The ANC continues to implement a policy of Democratic Centralism (Cadre Policy) that conflates the party and state regarding the employment of government officials through redeployment committees. As former Free State Provincial Secretary and current Secretary-General of the ANC, Ace Magashule is in a position to exert extensive influence over the deployment and continued employment of any senior officials and politicians in an ANC-run province such as the Free State.

The Magashule family have a poor track record regarding Free State tenders that include the following:

  • R300,000,000.00 grass cutting tenders in the Free State involved ME Construction owned by Ezekiel Magashule, a younger brother of Ace Magashule; Botlokwa Holdings owned by Thoko Malembe, the daughter of Ace Magashule; Juda in Zion Trading owned by Katleho Mochela, the daughter of Ngwathe (Parys) Mayor Joey Mochela and MDBS Trading, which is owned by Sibusiso and Duduza Ntombela, the sons of Premier Sisi Ntombela;
  • The daughter of Magashule, Thoko Alice Malembe, obtained property (with a filling station) worth R9,000,000.00 through Magashule’s alleged improper and unlawful influence with the Free State Development Corporation (FDC). There is video footage of a visit by Mr Magashule with employees of the FDC to the filling station before his daughters beneficiation. This filling station is now derelict and all former employees remain without employment;
  • At the Vogelfontein Housing Development in Dihlabeng Municipality, Thoko Malembe was allegedly a thirty percent partner in Unital Holdings, which was responsible for the development to the value of R150,000,000.00 and which is currently incomplete. It is alleged that Ace Magashule was directly involved in influencing the allocation of this lucrative contract.

The links between the Magashule and the controversial Gupta family are well known. The Gupta-linked Estina company is currently under investigation by various agencies regarding hundreds of millions of Rands irregularly spent on the Vrede Dairy Project. Such links include Magashule’s sons Tshepiso and Thato who both benefited from the Gupta’s largesse, with Tshepiso being employed and accommodated by the Guptas.

The above examples indicate that the latest allocation of lucrative government contracts to family members of Ace Magashule is not a once off occurrence. As former Premier of the Free State and current ANC Secretary-General, Magashule holds substantial influence over both politicians and senior government officials in the province.

The political integrity of President Ramaphosa will depend on his willingness to act against his most senior ANC party leader.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court

Tobacco and alcohol ban must be lifted yesterday

Please click here for a soundbite by Dean Macpherson MP.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes and agrees with comments by SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) President, Dr Glenda Gray and Professor Charles Parry, Director of Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs Research Unit at the SAMRC , that South Africa should be more “nimble” in its approach to the banning of alcohol.

In a polite way, Dr Gray is saying that there is no longer any use for the ban and that we must “look at livelihoods” as she put it.

Dr Gray has further stated that there has not been the excessive pressure on hospitals which is what we told the second ban was needed to avoid.

For a Government that has proudly proclaimed that it is “led by science”, throughout this national lockdown, President Ramaphosa has seemingly gone out of his way to prove the very opposite.

From allowing taxis to load up to 100%, to closing down schools, science has been the very last thing the government has worried about. However, what they have obsessed about it capitulating to powerful unions, lobby groups and internal ANC factional forces.

This second ban on alcohol has had terrible consequences for farmers, farm workers and down-stream businesses in the industry. People are losing everything because this government is not being led by science.

The ban on tobacco products has only led to cigarette smugglers becoming obscenely rich which criminalising South Africans for buying cigarettes.

It has also had a devastating effect on our economy and national revenue which has lost billions of Rands in taxes and duties, which we will never be able to recover.

The DA believes that the time for these illogical and unscientific bans to continue must come to an end immediately. President Ramaphosa must put his foot down, show leadership and unban alcohol and tobacco without further delay.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court

DA calls on Mboweni to instruct full disclosure of PPE procurement

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to put his money where his mouth is and issue a formal Treasury Instruction that would require the eight Provincial Treasuries which have not done so, to publish all Covid-19 procurement details in full. 

Minister Mboweni has already called on Provincial Treasuries and health departments to follow the Western Cape’s lead and publish this information. But he should go further, and issue a formal Treasury Instruction, in terms of Section 76 of the Public Finance Management Act, requiring them to do so within set time frames.

Only the Western Cape government has decided to proactively publish the details of all Covid-19 related expenditure in regular transparent reports. 

Click here to view the Western Cape Procurement Disclosure Report.

Treasury Instruction No. 5 of 2020/21 issued in April 2020, exempted Provincial Treasuries from competitive bidding processes on procurement of PPE equipment, which is normal in a legitimate emergency, but crucially did not require special reporting transparency. This was a serious misstep that has opened the way for major corruption under “emergency procurement” regulations. 

National Treasury, and Minister Mboweni, must take some of the responsibility for the wide-scale looting of Covid-19 emergency funds by senior ANC figures and connected cronies. 

The Minister also did not reply to the DA’s proposal of a Special Inspector General for Covid Expenditure, which we proposed in May. This Special Inspector General would have had powers to interdict and stop corruption in real time, and would have stopped a lot of the disgraceful theft that is now being exposed after the fact. 

With both of these opportunities missed, Minister Mboweni now has an obligation to stop corruption by compelling Provincial Treasuries to publish their PPE procurement details in full.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court

The DA calls for R150m arts and sports relief funding to be audited and for process to re-open

Please find an attached soundbite in English and Zulu, by Tsepo Mhlongo MP, DA Shadow Minister of Sports, Arts & Culture

For the sake of transparency and accountability, the Democratic Alliance (DA) calls for the R150 million relief funding issued to the Department of Sports Arts and Culture, which was meant to mitigate the effects Covid-19 on the sector to be audited.

This follows numerous allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the funds and the accusation that the department was not transparent about the funding process.

The relief fund application process has been laden with uncertainties and poor communication form the department.

Throughout the entire lockdown period, the DA has always had misgivings regarding the payments made by the department’s Covid-19 relief fund to artists and athletes. We have continuously demanded clarity on the criteria used to decide the amounts paid out and who it is paid out to.

Thousands of South Africans athletes and artists whose applications for relief funding has been rejected are rightfully questioning why some people benefited while they haven’t

We reiterate our call to Minister of Sports, Arts, and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, for the re-opening of the application process to the relief fund. This will provide those who were unsuccessful or missed the previous deadline a new and fair opportunity to access this much-needed funding

The second phase must be a substantial, 15-day period that allows artists and sportspeople a fair opportunity to access aid.

The distribution of relief funding must not to be ensnared in unnecessary red tape. Artists and sportspeople are suffering and the Department must step up and ensure that the money that was allocated for this relief is distributed in a fair, transparent and timeous manner.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court