Parliament must hold Minister Mkhize accountable for the vaccine rollout process during tomorrow’s meeting

Note to Editors: Please click here for a soundbite by the Shadow Minister of Health, Siviwe Gwarube MP.

The Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, will be presenting government’s plans on the Covid-19 vaccine to the Portfolio Committee of Health tomorrow, and the Democratic Alliance will be using this opportunity to hold the minister to account on various issues, which have come to light with the vaccine procurement processes.

We will seek clarity on:

1. The current processes and status of the bilateral engagements with vaccine manufacturers.​ A number of vaccine options are unviable, deemed unaffordable or unavailable for South Africa. What the status of these bilateral engagements is in light of these issues.

2. Government cannot rely solely on the Solidarity Fund to finance this vaccine endeavor. It needs to have a sustainable and viable funding stream which government must present. There is plenty of wasted funds going to failing SOEs which can be directed to this life- saving process.

3. Of the 5 vaccine options that has been provided by government, many are being discounted in South Africa based on various reasons including storage capability and/or cost. Therefore, the DA will request a detailed logistics plan on storage, transportation and distribution of the vaccine. And how this will be allocated to the first 1 million front line workers identified.

4. Clarity on their current position of negotiations with the private sector including medical aid schemes. There is confusion about the role of medical schemes in this process.

5. Details on the single procurement process which government has proposed. There seemingly is no wisdom in limiting the funding and sourcing of a vaccine only to government when the process has been sluggish against the huge target of 40 million South Africans.

In addition to this, we have seen the looting of public money meant for the COVID response last year by the politically connected. We cannot allow the same to happen to the funds allocated for this vaccine.

Parliament cannot evade its responsibility during this pandemic. This lack of understanding of its oversight role needs to come to an end and MPs must hold government to account.

We must get this right if we are to save lives and livelihoods.

Minister Zulu reveals that NGO who received R5.5 million from the NLC had no bank account

In December 2020, the Democratic Alliance (DA) revealed damning evidence related to a “Mystery Project” in Louis Trichardt that the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) had given R5.5 million to.

We discovered that this organisation was allegedly aligned to the ANC and campaigning on their behalf during the 2016 local government elections.

In addition, journalist Anton van Zyl revealed that this money was granted through the proactive funding mechanism which implies “…that a worthy project is identified (following proper research) and an “operator” is found to manage the project”.

During our investigation into this project we submitted several questions to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu in order to ascertain the compliance status of this non-governmental organisation (NGO).

Three months after we submitted the parliamentary questions, the Minister has finally replied and has revealed the following;

  • The organisation failed to submit financial and narrative reports for 2018 and 2020;
  • According to affidavits supplied by the NGO to the Department of Social Development (DSD) in 2019 they possessed no bank account and therefore could not accept any donations from sponsors;
  • They made no mention of funding from the NLC in their 2019 narrative report; and
  • That should Uprising Youth Development (NPO 153-198) fail to submit outstanding reports it will be deregistered.

What is particularly strange is the fact that the NLC disbursed funds to an organisation that did not comply with DSD regulations and possessed no bank account.

So, the question then remains, to whom did the NLC disburse these funds and how have these funds been spent?

In lieu of these revelations, the DA will be submitting parliamentary questions to Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel in this regard, in order to clarify how he allowed this to happen under his watch.

Montana joins the ranks of Myeni, Zuma to cast doubt on Zondo commission when implicated

With only months left before the Zondo Commission of Enquiry has to finalise its report on state capture, those who are implicated are doing everything they can to cast doubt on the integrity of the commission.

Yesterday, Lucky Montana joined these ranks.

In what is clearly a coordinated plan following in the dubious footsteps of former President Jacob Zuma and Dudu Myeni, its Montana’s plan to attack the commission, claiming he is being targeted unfairly.

It seems quite clear that if they can’t attack Judge Raymond Zondo directly – like Zuma, claiming bias – then an attack is launched on the legal team and investigators of the commission. It would be curious to know if their plan is to eventually be in a position to say the commission did not have every possible proof. They are therefore already preparing to discredit the finalised report.

The DA sees and condemns these underhanded tactics. The commission has been ongoing for two years and these allegations are only now coming to the fore, as the shoe begins to pinch.

From the outset, Judge Zondo issued a general invitation for people to come forward with any proof whatsoever so that it might be investigated. Now with months left, suddenly fresh allegations surface.

It has always been Zuma’s tactics to delay testifying – not only at the Zondo Commission, but in any court cases too – as a means to evade justice. His cohorts have learnt from his example.

Third of South Africans forced to rely on grants

An answer to a written parliamentary question from the Democratic Alliance (DA) has revealed that 31% of South Africans rely on grants every month to make ends meet.

The Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, divulged that more than 18 million people receive some form of grant payment, a massive increase from the mere 7% that received grants in 1996 – when this data was first recorded on a national level.

For many households grant payments have replaced salaries as their source of income. While the DA supports the payment of grants, the creation of jobs is of the utmost importance. South Africans need jobs, not just for financial stability but also for the dignity it provides, and the government has utterly failed to stimulate job growth.

While a natural inclination would be to lay all blame at the feet of the Covid-19 pandemic, the truth is that the first sharp increase to 20% of the population receiving grants happened in the 2004/05 financial year and has been steadily rising ever since, with 30% of South Africans having to rely on grants since 2010/11.

The only worthwhile conclusion that can be drawn is that South Africans are increasingly going into poverty due to a failing ANC government and its policies.

The data clearly indicates that the ANC government and its policies have had an active hand in impoverishing South Africans long before global economic implosions, State Capture or the Covid-19 pandemic made their marks in the history books.

These policies and strategies – often hailed as economic saviors that will invigorate the economy and provide jobs a plenty – serve only the corrupt and politically connected. The callous way South Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable are being treated, especially during the global Covid-19 pandemic, proves that the only interest the government has regarding the poor, are their votes. Their quality of life is an easy sacrifice on the altars of greed and power.

Diplomats must be held responsible for R10 million lost due to unreturned deposits for properties abroad

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) to immediately sign indemnity agreements with all diplomats in South Africa’s service after a written parliamentary question from us revealed that nearly R10 million have been lost due to deposits not being returned for rented properties.

Should such agreements already be in place, questions around their enforcement should be raised.

DIRCO Minister Naledi Pandor’s answer to our question revealed that over the past five years, the department has lost deposits from 101 properties rented abroad for diplomatic purposes. A total of R9 393 429 has been lost due to damages to property, deposits being used by landlords for maintenance work and repair of damages, or the leases being terminated by mission outside the terms and conditions.

The DA cannot help but wonder how many vaccines or PPE could have been bought or grants been paid had this money not been thrown in the water by negligent and reckless diplomats who through their actions are painting South Africans in a bad light, directly contravening their mandate to build brand South Africa.

We are therefore of the view that diplomats should be held directly responsible for damages they cause.

This embarrassing issue is clearly illustrated in the ongoing Los Angeles saga where the consul-general there, Thandile Sunduza, has yet to find a suitable property to call home.

With South African diplomats clearly showing a history of being terrible tenants, is it any wonder we’re having trouble renting a home for Sunduza?

Diplomats should be held to the age-old standard, “You break it, you buy it”, or at least pay for the damages incurred.

Speaker must reconsider urgent debate on SA’s Covid-19 vaccination-plan and allow an ad hoc committee to be formed to monitor the vaccine rollout

In light of Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s briefing yesterday, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, to again request an urgent debate of national importance regarding South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination-plan.

Minister Mkhize’s briefing has raised more questions than answers, to the extent that the DA Shadow Minister for Health, Siviwe Gwarube, has submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application in order to shed more light on an issue that is potentially endangering millions of South Africans.

The PAIA application will focus, amongst other things, on:

  • the procurement process and how government intends to safeguard procurement funds against wide-scale looting and corruption as seen with personal protective equipment (PPE) and other relief funds; and
  • the distribution mechanisms and methods of the vaccines on national, provincial and local levels to ensure that there are no delays.

The simple fact of the matter is that Parliament has a critical oversight role to play and cannot wait until well into the middle of the first quarter to perform this vital duty. To expect a debate of national importance to still hold relevance when the plan should have already been enacted at that time is foolish and would serve little purpose. There are aspects of the Covid-19 vaccination plan that deserves serious and immediate interrogation.

Government has already dropped the ball a number of times during the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. From Covid-19 funds lining corrupt pockets while the most vulnerable in society struggled to get their grants paid, health systems in various provinces buckling under the pressure to deal with Covid-19 patients, irrational regulations preying on civil liberties and hampering aid efforts, to government missing the initial deadline for payment to the COVAX initiative twice.

It is the Speakers’ duty to ensure that Parliament does not become Constitutionally delinquent. An ad hoc committee should be established as a matter of urgency to oversee the roll out of the country’s vaccination program.

Millions of South Africans depend on this vaccination strategy to ensure that the Coronavirus pandemic’s constant attack on their lives and livelihoods are halted. They need to know the exact details of government’s plan. They need to know that their best interests are of the highest regard to the Executive. Without an urgent debate of national importance, Parliament can hardly assure South Africans that this is indeed the case.

DA submits PAIA application to obtain detailed vaccine plan records

Following Minister Mkhize’s press conference last night in which he attempted to brief the country on the plans for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, the DA will now be submitting a PAIA application to obtain the codified detailed plan to ensure the integrity of this process. This is in accordance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) of 2000.

What is critical with an application of this kind is the fact that Minister Mkhize and his department will have 30 days to respond by providing this codified plan and will not be able to deny its publication because this is now a matter of urgent public importance.

The reality is that last night’s presentation was long overdue and simply too vague for the initial phase of the vaccine negotiations taking place across the globe. The level of detail provided last night is what was expected two months ago and not at this point.

Minister Mkhize should now be able to provide the DA with a detailed plan that should be in existence and should be made public. Powerpoint presentations do not substitute the need for a detailed plan that answers the following critical questions:

  1. A record of decision and proof of bilateral engagements and the exact status of each of these discussions.
  2. Cost breakdown from the vaccine manufacturers that are being considered. The non-disclosure agreements that are signed by government should not impede our ability to perform oversight on this entire process.
  3. The details of the procurement mechanism. Government has stated that there will be a centralized system of procurement, an endeavor which could spell massive delays for the country should it be fraught with corruption and mismanagement.
  4. A rollout plan which comprises of all arranged points of distribution for both the public and private sector.
  5. Agreements that detail the rules of engagements between the public and private sector to ensure that as many South Africans have access to this vaccine urgently.
  6. How the identified healthcare and front-line workers will be provided access to the vaccine – the system that will be followed.
  7. Sources of budget for the procurement and the distribution of the vaccine – how local and provincial governments will be equipped and resourced.
  8. The details of the logistics for storage, transportation and distribution of the vaccine.

Legal precedent provided for by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) litigation against government has shown the need for utmost transparency in matters of public health and access to life-saving interventions. It is therefore critical that we are not drip-fed information relating to this process but we are provided a plan that is now ready for rollout.

In reality, there are many aspects of this process which should have begun last year which did not need the finalization of the procurement of the vaccine to be completed.

Furthermore, 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. Since the Speaker of the National Assembly refused to urgently reconvene Parliament for a debate regarding details of the plan, the DA will continue to pursue the matter in Parliament.

We will not simply stand by and allow the South African government’s flat-footed response to this vaccine process cost us any more lives that could be saved.

DA launches 6-point action plan to urgently source Covid-19 vaccine

Find soundbite attached here

The DA is heartened by the news that the Western Cape government is working pro-actively to expedite access to a Covid-19 vaccine in that province. We call on National government to follow our lead and do the same.

More than ever before, the time has come for South Africa’s government to put the people first and to urgently secure a bi-lateral deal to expedite the arrival of the vaccine to our shores. Waiting for the second quarter next year is not good enough, and even then, the number of initial vaccines on offer will only cover 10% of the population.

Other nations have been able to do this. Why can’t we? The nation of Colombia, a country with almost identical socio-economic circumstances as South Africa has managed to immediately source a Covid-19 vaccine and has secured 9 million doses.

Despite being part of the World Health Organisation’s COVAX programme, Colombia has realised the obvious delays and shortcomings of this initiative and thus opted for a bi-lateral approach to swiftly secure the vaccine for its citizens.

The longer this ANC government delays access to a Covid-19 vaccine, the more lives and livelihoods our country will lose to this virus.

The South African government is solely responsible for this life-threatening delay in access to a Covid-19 vaccine. Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University, Shabir Madhi, recently stated: “Being involved in the clinical development of the vaccines should have placed us in an advantageous position to gain early access. Seemingly we have not exploited this opportunity. We’re in a difficult position in terms of being able to get vaccines within the course of 2021”.

Like many other emerging economies, South Africa needs to opt for this route. We have put together a 6-point action plan to ensure that access to a Covid-19 vaccine for all South Africans is fast tracked so that our country and its people can get back on their feet. The DA proposes the following:

  1. That government urgently begins bi-lateral negotiations, as many other countries have done, with approved vaccine suppliers in order to gain expedited access to a vaccine for South Africans. If only to secure enough, at this stage, for frontline healthcare workers, teachers and frontline responders, and the most vulnerable members of society, including older persons. The steps taken in this regard must be shared with the National Assembly to ensure sufficient oversight and accountability;
  2. That the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority is able to complete their required vaccine approval as efficiently as possible;
  3. That government determine, in detail, how many doses of the vaccine are necessary to inoculate the entire population and make the necessary financial provisions for this procurement. According to our estimates, at $10,22 per vaccine, it would cost R9,5 billion to cover 50% of the population. Thus, National Treasury must urgently reappropriate approximately R20 billion to ensure that the entire nation can be vaccinated against Covid-19;
  4. That government provide a definite timeline in relation to the COVAX participation, the date the vaccines will be here, how many doses will be arriving and how they are to be allocated;
  5. That government begin this week to develop a roll-out strategy to, as quickly as possible administer the vaccine to citizens who require it, and identify which facilities will be used to store and administer the vaccine; and
  6. Ensure that the procurement of syringes, needles, swabs, fridges, and other associated ancillary requirements for the administering of the vaccine is undertaken. This must be conducted with transparency and accountability to prevent the corruption witnessed in the first round of PPE procurement.

In addition to this, government must begin a process of identifying the worst-affected industries from lockdown to establish targeted relief programmes so that strategic and important sectors of our economy can be protected and jobs retained. Blanket bans, closures, and restrictions cannot be enforced unless all relevant stakeholders are consulted and the necessary relief is provided during this time.

A vaccine is now the only solution, and the only alternative to lockdown which is no longer a viable or sustainable means to curb the spread of the virus in our country. It is the only path for us to return to some form of normality. The new year has to bring new resolve to combat Covid-19. We need to save the lives of the citizens and give our economy a fighting chance to begin the long road to some form of recovery.

2020 saw the South African economy suffer devastating losses after almost a year of crippling restrictions in one of the hardest and longest lockdowns in the world. The last year also saw excessive growth in unemployment numbers as the lockdowns shut down many sectors of the economy.

The only efficacy lockdowns have is to provide time for an adequate healthcare capacity to be developed to deal with the inevitable rise in cases once the lockdown ends. It is clear that this healthcare capacity was not built up. This leaves lockdown as the only tool government has in its arsenal to combat Covid-19. This is no longer sustainable as we begin a new year.

The time has now come to marshal the resources of the country to combat Covid-19 sustainably and decisively. This is going to require some tough choices to be made and a strong resolve required to win the war against the virus, save as many citizens as possible, and keep the economy moving.

We furthermore believe that the time has now come for Parliament to step up to its responsibility through the creation of an ad-hoc committee of the National Assembly to now deal specifically with the vaccine rollout programme in South Africa. This will ensure that the people’s elected representatives are able to receive regular reports on this process, interrogate progress, and exercise oversight to ensure that it is not botched more than it has already been.

The new year must bring new resolve to combat Covid-19, we simply cannot remain in indefinite lockdown.