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.