Only 8% of Covid-19 relief for SMMEs spent 

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on the Minister of Small Business Development, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, and her acting director-general, Lindokuhle Mkhumane, to urgently account to the Portfolio Committee on Small Business Development on why her department is failing to send much-needed relief to the millions of business owners and employees who are fighting to survive the economic shock of the pandemic.

This after the Auditor General (AG) of South Africa’s second report on the financial management of government’s Covid-19 initiatives revealed that 92% of the financial support earmarked for small business has not been paid out. Of the R1.4 billion that was budgeted for support to qualifying small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) affected by Covid-19, only 8% of the funds have been spend, meaning that almost R1.3 billion of the relief fund lies unspent.

Small businesses have been hit hard by government’s imposed hard Covid-19 lockdown last year, so severe in fact, that 42% of SMMEs did not survive the lockdown and had to close down.

The DA has received numerous complaints from SMMEs regarding the complex application process. Especially sole proprietors were excluded from the relief aid because it was problematic for them to register their business on the smmesa.gov.za website.

Millions of livelihoods depend on SMMEs to survive the Covid-19 pandemic. The Minister must remove the red tape and bottlenecks in her department that is preventing the fair allocation of these relief funds.

Parliament must urgently summon Minister Zulu to account for disability grant crisis

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the Chair of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development, Mondli Gungubele, to urgently request a meeting to deal with the looming disability grant crisis, where the Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, must account for how her Department intends to handle the disability grant crisis, and to provide a guarantee that the grant reassessment deadlines will be extended at least until March 2021.

This comes after it became known that thousands of disability grant recipients are at risk of losing their lifesaving grants due to the ANC-led government’s failure to extend the deadline for disability grant re-assessments during the lockdown period.

It is Parliament’s duty to hold the Minister to account and since it is people’s lives and livelihoods at stake, we cannot wait for Parliament to start its normal business in February. The Chair must act now and summon Minister Zulu.

During the initial lockdown, the requirement that disability grant recipients receive bi-annual assessments to confirm their disability was suspended, and all grant benefits were extended for an additional few months. This was done to avoid forcing vulnerable beneficiaries out of their homes to undergo these assessments, and to reduce assessment demand during a period of limited healthcare staff capacity.

To date, the government has failed to prepare for the upcoming flood of beneficiaries who will need to undergo their reassessments, thereby putting many vulnerable South Africans at risk of losing their much-needed disability grants in the coming weeks.

The DA has called for government to further extend these expiring disability grants until March 2021 to allow for grant recipients to complete their reassessments timeously. However, Minister Zulu stated in a reply to a DA parliamentary question that such an extension would be too expensive, at an estimated cost of R1.2 billion.

We reject this excuse as it further demonstrates the ANC-led governments misguided fiscal priorities. The ANC has been more than willing to shift over R10.5 billion to bail out the failing SAA, whilst being simultaneously frugal on necessities such as vaccines and disability grants which would directly improve the lives of ordinary South Africans.

As usual, the ANC government’s skewed fiscal priorities and lack of planning is placing South Africa’s most vulnerable citizens at risk of losing their much-needed disability grants in the coming weeks.

The DA remains committed to protecting the lifelines of South Africa’s most vulnerable citizens, and we will work to prevent these citizens from being harmed by the ANC-led governments incompetence.

DA welcomes vaccine acquisition but requires a comprehensive rollout plan

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

The DA welcomes the announcement made by the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, during this morning’s urgent meeting of the portfolio committee of health that 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be acquired during the month of January from the Serum Institute of India.

This announcement comes at the back of the portfolio committee of health where the DA pushed hard for oversight over government’s tardy vaccine rollout strategy and undesirable time lines. We therefore welcome that headway has been made to prioritize frontline workers who require this vaccine as a matter of urgency as numbers of infections and fatalities rise.

However, as stated to Minister Mkhize this morning, acquisition of the vaccine is but the first step. There are many more elements to this process which need to be ironed out as soon as possible and the details of which to be made public.

  1. Transparency around the cost of the vaccine and whether larger volumes can be procured from the same institution considering India’s access to large numbers, especially considering the delays with the COVAX process;
  2. South Africa’s own sustainable and large scale vaccine acquisition that doesn’t simple give us access to small quantities but larger consignments so we can begin the process of saving lives and livelihoods;
  3.  The logistical details on the storage, transportation and distribution of the first million doses of the vaccine;
  4. The identification process of the frontline workers who will be given this vaccine and the platforms that will be used to reach as many as possible in a matter of weeks;
  5. The integrity of the procurement, prioritization and distribution of the vaccine.

If we are to meet the 40 million South Africans that are to be vaccinated by year end, we need this process developed to precision. We cannot afford avoidable backlogs nor can we afford complacency. COVID-19 is wreaking havoc in South Africa and we need to move at pace with distributing life-saving vaccines to the hierarchy that has been internationally adopted.

While this is a great first step – which must be welcomed amid the crisis we find ourselves in – we must secure large scale vaccines so that the country can have some semblance of a recovery plan sooner rather than later. We will not meet the 67% target if we do not move at pace and play open cards with Parliament and the public. The DA will be relentless in its quest to hold government to account.

DA Youth calls for urgent Portfolio Committee to deal with the state of the NYDA

The DA will be writing to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Hon. Nonhlahla Ndaba, to request an urgent meeting of the Committee to discuss the state of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA).

Of primary concern is our call for the extension of the public participation process on the NYDA Amendment Bill.

This after it came to light that the public participation process was only opened in December 2020, last month and is due to close on the 31st of January 2021. This period has given little to none opportunity to young people across South Africa to consider the amendment of the said Act. It follows after the ANC tried to bulldoze their cadres into NYDA board positions last year.

Much like most of our state machinery, the ANC and its cadres, under the guise of transformation, BBBEE and empowerment, have regressed the NYDA into a full-blown criminal entity to legally loot its almost half a billion Rand budget. NYDA board members are paid an average of R500 000 annually to attend 10 board meetings per year, where they decide who will be the next cadre to get a slice of the entity’s almost R500 million budget.

The amendment of the NYDA Act has major implications on whether the continued looting of the entity will continue unabated with the change of critical sections of the Act that may allow the NYDA to become a full blown ANC ancillary entity. Meanwhile, brilliant and talented young people across the country and political spectrum are left out in the cold with little to no opportunities available to them.

This move by Parliament is very concerning noting that the NYDA currently is yet to appoint a board. As the DA Youth we are concerned that the draft NYDA Amendment Bill is out for public comment before the board of NYDA is appointed. It really does not make sense why Parliament is prioritising a framework of a leaderless entity NYDA.

The NYDA also has not published the NYDA Amendment Bill on its website, neither has it made efforts to populate and popularise the existence of this process on any of its channels. This is a major hinderance in young people’s engagement in the process and also acts as a barrier to information dissemination on such a critical document.

DA demands forensic audit into dodgy Cape Minstrel Grants

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will request the Auditor General for a forensic audit into dodgy grants awarded to the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival Association (CTMCA).

In answers to Parliamentary questions, it was revealed the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) has little knowledge over a total amount of R54 403 058 that was allocated to the CTMCA.

The three Parliamentary replies (here, here and here) expose the lack of accountability and the possible abuse of NLC funding, paid in three instalments:

  1. R27 320 758,64 for an Annual Workshop and the Carnival Heritage Museum
  2. R13 322 300,00 for another Annual Workshop and Infrastructure
  3. A total of R13 750 000,00 was granted for a Socio Economic Cohesion Symposium, Cultural Awareness campaign and the introduction of a Community Magazine.

Museum:

With regards to the first grant of R27 320 758 the NLC could only account for R5 million (or 18%) which was used for building of the Carnival Heritage Museum.

It was further revealed the land (in Schaap Kraal, ERF 1221) was bought by the organisation but subsequently sold. The purchased land was under CTMCA ownership but it is now renting a building where the Museum is operating now in 5/7 Crete Road, Wetton, Cape Town.

It is unclear why a property was purchased and for what amount and why and to whom the property was then sold to, given that the CTMCA now has to rent a property.

Annual Workshop and Infrastructure:

With regards to the R13 322 300,00 grant for an Annual Workshop and Infrastructure, the NLC could only account for R 801 000.00 (or 6%) of the total grant which was spent on the workshop where a planned 150 people were to attend. If indeed all 150 attended, it amounts to a spending of R5 340 per person.

The remaining R12 531 300, supposedly for infrastructure is unaccounted for. This despite the fact I asked in my Parliamentary question, what amount was spent on infrastructure and what infrastructure was purchased.

Symposium and Campaign, plus Magazine:

The final grant of R13 750 000,00 for a Socio Economic Cohesion Symposium and Cultural Awareness campaign and the introduction of a Community Magazine, a total amount of “about” R8 290 000,00 was spent on the magazine, while the remaining amount of “about” R5 460 000,00 was spent on the Socio Economic Cohesion Symposium and Cultural Awareness campaign.

It must have been quite a symposium! Where is all the missing money?

Given the ambiguity of the replies and the fact that the NLC has little or no clue as to whether grant money was spent on what it was provided for, I will be writing to the Auditor General requesting that her office conducts a forensic audit into all the grants awarded to the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival Association.

It is unacceptable that charities combating child abuse and gender based violence are struggling to keep their doors open due to the lack of funding from the NLC while they splurge millions on vanity projects.

Minister Mantashe must reopen REIPPP to save SA from load shedding

In light of the fact that the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, has deviated from the cabinet approved Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), South Africa’s roadmap for electricity generation, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to the Minister to request the immediate timeline for restarting the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPP) bid windows. He must also do good on his commitment to an annual process to procure more generation from independent power producers (IPPs).

Minister Mantashe has decided to include the procurement of 2 500 MW of nuclear power by 2024 in his Ministerial Performance Agreement. This despite the IRP containing no such provision and his neglect to implement the procurement of renewable energy through IPPs – a key area of the IRP that both he and President Cyril Ramaphosa has repeatedly and unambiguously committed to.

In order to meet the IRP undertaking of 14 400 MW of new wind generation and 6 000 MW of new solar generation by 2030, the IPP Office would need to approve approximately 2 600 MW of new IPPs annually, each year going forward. This will be a difficult undertaking, as the REIPPP has not opened a bid window since 2016. It is unconscionable that this programme, once considered a world leader, should now be allowed to crumble into complete disarray.

With an economy in meltdown and further load shedding announced, it is more apparent than ever that Eskom cannot be relied on to secure South Africa’s electricity supply.

This delay is inexcusable. Load-shedding affects all walks of life and is widely considered the single biggest inhibitor of economic growth in South Africa, and in a time of pandemic, even impacts on the ability of hospitals to keep ventilators running.

South Africa cannot afford to delay the REIPPP further while lives and livelihoods are destroyed.

Cele playing cops and surfers on the beach while South Africans live in fear of real criminals

The Democratic Alliance (DA) condemns in the strongest terms the announcement made by the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, that members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) will today be roped in to assist the South African Police Service (SAPS) with patrolling beaches in the Garden Route.

It is well known that South Africa suffers from an extremely high crime rate. Rape, gender-based violence, murder, farm attacks and gang warfare are all but out of control. Just yesterday, a vigilante mob attacked and beheaded two suspected gang members in Durban, while last Tuesday 11-year-old Kgothatso Tshabalala was stabbed to death in Mamelodi, allegedly by a man angry at her mother. Every day, community papers on the Cape Flats carry more stories of innocent men, women and children caught in gang crossfire while going about their everyday lives.

It is under circumstances such as this that Minister Cele chooses to prioritise the chasing down of surfers on the beach and the confrontation of sunbathers and joggers on promenades. The DA has for years requested the deployment of the SANDF in gang-ridden areas of the Cape Flats, but these requests have always fallen on deaf ears. This is indicative of Minister Cele’s skewed priorities.

Questions also need to be asked about the seeming lack of agency on the part of National Police Commissioner, Khehla Sitole – the SAPS are accountable to the Minister but not under his command, and it is worrying that the Commissioner seems to have handed Minister Cele the reins without so much as a push-back about the way his men and women in blue are being deployed to police petty crimes while neglecting priority areas such as gang warfare, farm attacks and gender-based violence.

Lastly, given that SAPS has a budget close on double that of the SANDF and its personnel numbers exceed the 187 000 mark as opposed to the SANDF with around 75 000 soldiers, surely police have the resources to handle a few surfers on their own? Calling in the SANDF for this purpose is an admission of failure on the Minister’s part.

It is becoming increasingly clear that our national security personnel are being misused in order to serve the authoritarian agendas of ANC Ministers hell-bent on controlling rather than governing.

The DA will continue to fight for an honest and professional police service committed to keeping our communities safe and criminal free.

SAPO execs spent R600 000 on corporate club fees when entity was suffering, DA can reveal

The Democratic Alliance (DA) can reveal executive members of the South African Post Office (SAPO) wined and dined on the finest food and drink as part of a corporate membership to the tune of more than half a million rand during a time when the entity was retrenching staff and shutting post offices.

The DA will continue to probe this shocking expenditure after it was revealed in reply to a Parliamentary question by Cameron MacKenzie MP. It emerged the SAPO spent R600 000 over 8 years on corporate membership at the exclusive Irene Country Club.

Adding insult to injury, during the time this corporate membership was paid for, there were numerous instances of post offices being shut for non-payment of rent, fleet vehicles unable to operate for lack of fuel, and a catalogue of unpaid suppliers ranging from printer ink to post office maintenance.

During the eight years in which SAPO executives wined and dined, played golf on the Top 50 course as well as indulged in games of cricket, tennis, bowls, and squash, the SAPO faced warnings from the Auditor General (AG) year after year regarding its ability to operate as a going concern.

In this time, several Strategic Turnaround Plans (STPs) were tabled before Parliament aimed at restoring the SAPO to financial sustainability. All of these contained a commitment to reduce staff – to retrench or retire loyal employees while senior executives, safe in their positions, enjoyed the finest country club entertainment the country can offer.

In exchange for taxpayer-funded bailouts totaling almost R8 billion over the last eight years, all of these STPs also included a commitment to cut unnecessary expenditure while increasing revenue. Clearly, this reduction in expenditure did not extend to corporate hospitality benefits.

It is unacceptable that, at a time when the SAPO was being kept afloat on billion Rand bailouts, that money could still be found to pay these country club fees on time, every time. The state and its entities cannot be a place of perks for selected individuals who exploit these for their own selfish ends.

The DA will be asking further questions of the SAPO to establish exactly who benefitted from the Irene Country Club membership; whether any additional SAPO funds were spent on food and beverages, court fees, merchandising, etc.; as well as whether the SAPO has any similar arrangements elsewhere in the country.

Stella must justify expense to taxpayers for SABC bailout

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, to ask her to justify properly government’s intention of charging people with mobile devices the cost of a television licence and transferring all the subsequent income to the SABC.

This is after the Minister has failed to do so in answer to a written parliamentary question from the DA. The Minister instead chose simply to quote from the Draft White Paper on Audio and Audio-visual Content Services Policy Framework: A New Vision for South Africa 2020.

This draft paper proposes to exploit another stream of revenue to bail out yet another State entity brought to its knees by years of gross mismanagement. And it seems the Minister knows that this is not justifiable, given her poor attempt at answering the question.

It is the same White Paper that seeks to extend TV licence fees to include payment for using streaming services like Netflix, regardless of whether such a service is viewed on a television.

In light of this, the DA urges the public to make written submissions opposing the draft paper before 15 February 2021 to:

The Acting Director-General, Department of Communications and Digital
Technologies
Block A3, iParioli Office Park, 1166 Park Street, Hatfield, Pretoria
Private Bag X860, Pretoria, 0001

or

By email: aacs@dtps.gov.za

In addition, we urge South Africans to sign the DA petition rejecting licence fees for entertainment streaming services Netflix and Showmax.
In order for South Africans to give feedback on policies that will affect them, they must first understand the justification for such a policy. Without it, they cannot fairly judge it.

South Africans cannot continue to carry the brunt of the burden for the SABC’s mismanagement. Unless the broadcaster undergoes fundamental reform, it will never be financially viable, and government will continue to expect the people of South Africa to dig deeper in their pockets. The gravy train must be derailed here.

ANC Government’s lack of planning fails disability grant beneficiaries

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has learnt that thousands of disability grant beneficiaries across the country have been failed by the ANC-led government’s lack of planning and might not receive their grant this month as a result.

Per the policy of the South African Social Service Agency (SASSA), the beneficiaries of disability grants have to submit themselves to bi-annual reassessments in order to ascertain the status of their condition – even though many, if not most, of these beneficiaries suffer from conditions that will last them for the rest of their lives. During lockdown, the need for reassessments for expiring benefits was suspended and benefits were automatically extended for another few months, as a result of decreased staff capacity and the need to avoid forcing vulnerable beneficiaries out of their homes in order to undergo the prescribed medical assessments.

At the end of last year the DA called for government to extend the expiring grants until March 2021 in order to avoid a crisis and allow the affected beneficiaries to complete their reassessments timeously. Minister Zulu, in response to a Parliamentary Question from the DA’s Alexandra Abrahams MP then stated that the expense of extending these grants is too expensive (an estimated R 1.2 billion).

As we have seen in recent days, the ANC-led national government is more than willing to shift billions to bail out failing public entities such as SAA – and yet characteristically frugal in actually spending that money on necessities such as vaccines and disability grants, in order to improve the lives of millions of ordinary South Africans.

Further to the government’s refusal to allocate the necessary funds to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of South Africans that rely on disability grants are able to receive their money in time, it has also failed to prepare for the predictable flood of beneficiaries needing to undergo their reassessments.

As always, it is as a result of the ANC government’s skewed fiscal and political priorities, and a complete lack of planning ability, that ordinary South Africans now suffer needlessly.

The DA calls on Minister Zulu to, as a matter of urgency, extend the existing disability grants until at least the end of March 2021.