Time is of the essence, Madame Speaker, and we have run out

The Democratic Alliance (DA) takes note of the response by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise MP, to our request for the urgent re-convening of Parliament to debate the South African government’s Covid-19 vaccine plan.

On Tuesday, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that South Africans can only look forward to start receiving the Covid-19 vaccine in the second quarter of 2021, the DA wrote to the Speaker requesting that she reconvene Parliament on an urgent basis before the end of the year in order for Parliament to consider, by way of debate, the government’s vaccine plans.

The Speaker’s response acknowledges that “the Minister of Health is still to provide details of the vaccine roll out plan” and that “the plan is a matter of ongoing concern for all South Africans and warrants the continued oversight of Parliament” – yet she draws the conclusion that it is appropriate for the matter to be pushed out to February, “in view of the fact that the vaccine will now be available in the second quarter of 2021”.

South Africa clocked over 17 000 new cases yesterday. Hundreds of thousands of South Africans have lost fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children, teachers, neighbours, colleagues and friends to the virus. Hundreds of thousands more have seen poorly planned lockdowns and unreasonable restrictions on trade and enterprise cost them their businesses, jobs, and income. In the coming months and years, millions will suffer under the poor economic conditions brought on by the ANC government’s abysmal pandemic-response and lack of planning.

South Africans deserve to know what the details of government’s vaccine plan is – and they deserve to know immediately, because we can’t afford more waves of infection or rolling lockdowns.

As a body with oversight over the actions of the Executive, Parliament should not be content to wait on the Executive to come up with the answers in their own time. Urgent accountability is required, and Parliament fails in its duty by not demanding answers. The DA will be writing to the Speaker today, urging her to reconsider the scheduling of the vaccine debate.

Just like the second quarter is too late for the vaccine, so February is too late for a debate of this importance. The Speaker’s decision demonstrates that the ANC still fail to understand that time is of the essence, and we are out of it.