DA calls for Parliamentary ad hoc committee to oversee Deputy President’s vaccine rollout team

Please find the attached soundbite by Siviwe Gwarube MP.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, to request the urgent establishment of a Parliamentary ad hoc committee, in terms of Section 253 of the Rules of the National Assembly and Section 42.3 of the Constitution, to perform oversight over the interministerial committee (IMC) headed by Deputy President David Mabuza that has been announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

It is important that Parliament starts to play its oversight role effectively. The DA has previously called on the establishment of an ad hoc committee to perform oversight over the Executive during the lockdown. The Speaker held at the time that the Portfolio Committee on Health could perform such a function. However, now that an IMC on the rollout of the vaccine plan has been established, a multi-party, multi-portfolio ad hoc committee which will have direct oversight over this IMC is vital.

It is critical now more than ever that the Deputy President and this IMC are directly accountable to Parliament and the people it represents for the life-altering decisions it will be making.

Included in our letter to the Speaker will be a call that the ad hoc committee meets every week with multi-party representation where the IMC can report on their decisions. This will ensure the IMC’s transparency.

Up until now, government has yet to be transparent with the rollout plan of the vaccine. Reports today indicate that the South African government will have to spend double what some other countries are paying for their vaccines – a direct consequence of the fact that government did not plan properly and did not start the negotiations in time. This is why transparency is crucial. We need to have a detailed vaccine rollout plan presented to Parliament for scrutiny and input.

During this important phase of vaccine acquisition, we are yet to know from government how much is being spent on the various vaccine facilities; where the budget is being sourced from and whether the requisite procurement processes are being followed.

Parliament is not just simply there as an inconvenient stakeholder which needs to be briefed on decisions that have already been made. It is there primarily to scrutinize these plans and to represent the people of South Africa fairly and effectively. We cannot do our job of holding government to account if the response to this pandemic is Executive heavy and has absolutely no oversight.

Government’s response to the first wave of the pandemic proved that without proper oversight holding it to account, any plans would simply descend into corruption and looting of public funds as was meant for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other related products. This resulted from the fact that Parliament had no direct oversight on how much money was being spent, how much money was being allocated to provinces or some of the accountability mechanisms for departments.

All that is left of the billions of Rands meant as aid in a devastating worldwide pandemic, is stagnating and obsolete investigations that will not yield the punishment of those who have stolen public money. We cannot allow the same thing to happen again. We cannot allow government to not be held accountable.

We also need to make sure that government is prepared. It’s one thing to acquire a vaccine, it’s a whole other thing entirely to ensure that the vaccine is distributed; is stored well; that it’s not wasted and that it gets to every single corner of the country. This is why it would be crucial for the IMC to report weekly to Parliament on the various stages of the rollout plan.

It’s time for Parliament to truly flex its muscles as the national legislature and oversight body in this country.

No money for Covid vaccines, but cadres demand 10% salary hike

Following recent reports that the ongoing looting of the state means that National Treasury has no money left to pay for life-saving Covid vaccines, it is appalling that some public sector unions are nonetheless demanding that their salaries be increased by as much as 10%. In the current context of profound suffering and rapidly accelerating economic decline, which was engineered by decades of ANC misrule and the government’s heavy-handed lockdown, this demand demonstrates callous disregard for the people of South Africa.

Public sector union leaders appear willing to bankrupt our country as long as they are able to siphon even more money into the pockets of millionaire cadres.

They seem entirely oblivious to the fact that public sector wages have already increased by 66% during the past decade, thereby crowding out funds for productive investment and contributing to the more than 11 million people who are unemployed and the over 30 million people still trapped in desperate poverty.

They appear to simply not care that the state has already lost over R300 billion in tax revenue due to irrational economic fiats issued by their ANC alliance partners.

This demand in the midst of the current crisis has exposed the fundamentally parasitic nature of the ANC elites who have captured the state.

Some of the very same cadres demanding a 10% raise were recently busy destroying our economy through bans on cooked chicken and open-toed shoes while other countries were negotiating to procure life-saving vaccines. The same cadres who demand a 10% increase are simultaneously threatening citizens with even higher taxes after failing to prioritize funds for vaccines over SAA. The same cadres who continue to destroy South Africa’s hospitality and alcohol industries now want to be rewarded with a 10% higher salary.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will not let them get away with it. We will be writing to Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu, asking him to publicly reject this demand and committing to cutting the wage bill during the upcoming negotiations. We will also use the precedent established by the recent ruling of the Labour Court, which declared the previous 2018 wage agreement unlawful. The court noted that:

Under the present circumstances, it does not appear to be just and equitable to…expend significant and scarce financial resources on employees whose jobs are already secured and salaries have been paid in full, particularly in circumstances where the imperative exists for the recovery of the economy to the benefit of millions of vulnerable people.”

The DA agrees and, if needs be, we will use this same court precedent to defeat this latest attempt by self-serving cadres to bankrupt South Africa.

Minister Zulu hides behind childish accusations to avoid answering critical questions

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is shocked that the Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, avoided answering our questions in a Social Development Portfolio Committee meeting by hiding behind a baseless allegation.

The Minister – who was meant to answer critical questions such as SASSA’s lack of capacity, the lack of doctors to assess disability grants applicants and why she did not issue a ministerial direction to extend the Temporary Disability Grants (TDGs) after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the return to level 3 given the fact that the beneficiaries of this grant are in the high risk category – resorted to obfuscation to distract from her department’s bungling of the disability grants crisis.

The Minister refused to answer questions by claiming that I had called her a prima-donna in a previous statement. The DA has never resorted to calling the Minister a prima-donna in any statement, but we do agree that the Minister’s description, that she pulled from her own imagination, is an apt one.

She certainly fits the definition of “a very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance” to a tee. If only she would use her talent or importance to better the lives of those desperate and unfortunate beneficiaries in her care, instead of hiding behind lies to avoid accountability for the atrocities perpetrated by her Department against them.

If the Minister does wish to attribute such an insult to a member of an opposition party, Honourable Bantu Holomisa from the UDM called the Ministers collectively prima-donnas in a 2020 interview with 702. It’s clear that Minister Zulu feels this shoe fits.

Minister Zulu must stop playing childish games and focus on finding an urgent solution to the humanitarian crisis playing out on her doorstep. The Minister today dithered and dodged any and every opportunity she had to face accountability and wasted Parliament and the people’s time.

Unless she sorts out the disability grants-catastrophe, the blood of the people that have died from hunger (and the death of the man shot at a SASSA queue this week) will be on her hands.

She should hang her head in shame, or better yet, President Ramaphosa should fire her.

Government and the President’s deadly vaccine lies must stop now

Please find attached a soundbite by John Steenhuisen MP

President Ramaphosa’s solemn assurance that his government has been negotiating for the supply of Covid-19 vaccines for the past six months is fast being unmasked as a damage-control lie. The latest exposure of this lie comes in the form of a recorded phone conversation between a Pfizer employee and a Northern Cape businessman in which it is revealed that the pharmaceutical company tried, over and over for many months, to enter into talks with the SA government, to no avail.

Aside from an initial conversation in July last year and one subsequent meeting with the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines (MAC) – which provided no further guidance on government’s vaccination plans – government showed no interest in pursuing negotiations until it was far too late.

And Pfizer is not the only example of this. Earlier it was revealed by Johnson and Johnson – who have been testing and producing vaccines right here in SA in partnership with Aspen Pharmacare – that government showed no initial interest in pursuing their vaccine and even cancelled their scheduled meeting back in August. By the time government finally sprang into action, it was too late as all 300 million doses had been snapped up by other countries. And I know of yet another reputable manufacturer who confirmed a similar story to me.

It is clear that President Ramaphosa has now embarked on a desperate mission to soften this narrative in order to exonerate his government of its biggest and deadliest failure of the entire Covid crisis. Compare the ANC government’s repeated shunning of Pfizer’s attempts to enter into talks with that of the Israeli government, whose prime minister had personally spoken to the Pfizer CEO 17 times over the course of several months last year to secure vaccines. Israel is now on track to have all its adult citizens vaccinated by the end of March. We don’t even have a single vaccine in the country yet.

This is a shameful failure, on par with government’s delay in rolling out life-saving antiretrovials (ARVs) for HIV positive South Africans two decades ago, which resulted in an estimated 300,000 premature deaths. It is a failure that should – and elsewhere would – bring down a government. Consider that the entire Dutch government resigned last week following a scandal over child benefits. Their Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, took full responsibility for the scandal on behalf of his cabinet and said they had no choice but to collectively resign.

I have seen commentators in the media and on social media wryly joking about the Dutch cabinet resignation in comparison to our own government. But it is no joke. We have to demand the same level of accountability from ours. We cannot simply say “this is the ANC, so don’t expect the same”. The Pfizer revelation cannot remain a solitary news report, after which we wipe the slate clean and brace for the next scandal. Every watchdog in our society – from opposition parties to civil society to the media – has to demand real accountability, and not stop demanding it until it happens.

This is why the DA instructed its lawyers to write to President Ramaphosa on Monday demanding that he respond, within seven days, with the full timeline and minutes of government’s dealings with all vaccine suppliers. He must also provide a detailed rollout plan for the vaccination programme including vaccine type, confirmed quantities of each, delivery dates of each, storage and transport arrangements, rollout priority, and their plan to communicate all of this to citizens.

We have informed him that should he not respond within seven days, or should his response be unsatisfactory, we will be left with no choice but to approach the courts to compel him to do so. It will not be the first time the ANC government finds itself on the wrong side of such a legal challenge, as their delayed and secretive ARV programme two decades ago was met with a similar, successful court action.

Our country cannot afford another year like 2020. We have no reserves to absorb the economic impact, and it is clear we have already run out of money to mitigate the effects of lockdowns. Our only ticket out of this is the fast and widespread rollout of a vaccination plan. The ANC government has botched this, and they will have to bear the full responsibility – both legally and electorally.

But right now they also have to do everything they can to make up lost time and to get our delayed vaccination programme back on track. And the first step is to come clean on all the lies and give South Africans the unvarnished truth. If they want cooperation from citizens in this critical programme, they cannot deceive them any longer.

SAPS must arrest ‘Sjambok Cop’ Immediately

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is disgusted by the behaviour of a member of the South African Police Service (SAPS) captured on video beating a man with a sjambok, allegedly for not wearing a mask.

The horrific video is a further example of the high levels of police abuse which we have seen throughout the lockdown and proof that the violent culture of enforcement within SAPS has not been dealt with by Minister Bheki Cele and the National Police Commissioner, General Khela Sitole.

I have written to General Kehla Sitole requesting his urgent intervention to ensure the arrest of the officer and I have referred this matter to the office of the IPID Executive Director, Jennifer Dikaedi-Ntlaseng for further investigation. Should General Sitole fail to respond to the DA within 48 hours, we will lay criminal charges.

In October 2020 I received a response to a parliamentary question regarding the use of sjamboks by members of the SAPS following reports from members of the public. The response from Minister Cele is crystal clear when it says:

“Sjamboks are not part of the equipment issued by the SAPS. Privately owned sjamboks are not allowed to be used by SAPS members in the execution of their duties”.

The response goes further to state that a national instruction was sent to all SAPS members following the Colins Khoza case wherein the use of force and torture were explained and the prohibition on the use on sjamboks was reiterated.

Minister Cele is presiding over a corrupt and violent SAPS which has shown its true colours time and again. The DA has called on the Minister to ensure the implementation of the recommendations in the White Paper of 2016 which calls for the demilitarisation of the SAPS. We have also called for the panel of experts report established following the Marikana Massacre to be tabled before the committee. The Minister appears unwilling to ensure that SAPS is rehabilitated from its violent ways.

The DA appreciates the work of the many hard working, honest and professional members of the SAPS, however, the culture within SAPS needs to change urgently and we will continue to call for an overhaul of the SAPS culture.

DA submits supplementary evidence to Ethics Committee regarding Mantashe bribery allegations

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to the Registrar of Parliament’s Ethics Committee, Advocate Anthea Gordon, to submit supplementary evidence to our previous request for the Committee to investigate allegations that Mineral Resources Minister, Gwede Mantashe, bribed two Sunday World journalists with R70 000 to make a story about his personal life “disappear”.

In the 27 October 2019 edition of the Sunday World, the Minister was quoted stating: “Two journalists from your publication called me for the same story. So, you are the third person to call me for the same story, do you also want money? I paid them and now you are calling about the same story. Every time I asked them when they will publish the story, they told me the evidence is destroyed. I begged them not to write the story, I paid two journalists at your publication. I will not reveal their names, you can ask amongst your colleagues and ask Lerato to tell you their names. You can go ahead and write the story, that is my comment.”

The South African National Editors Forum commissioned an independent inquiry to probe ethical practice within the media sector including these allegations and on Monday released the following damning findings related to the Minister:

  • Minister Gwede Mantashe showed “executive contempt” for the media when he made public allegations that he had paid R70,000 to Sunday World journalists to kill a story about him.
  • The Minister’s actions were a prime example of political and executive disregard and contempt for the media.
  • Making an on-the-record allegation and then retracting it without explanation is contemptuous of the media and media practitioners’ function and standing.
  • That a Cabinet minister should escape censure from his political confrères indicates a disregard for a fundamental democratic institution.
  • Such incidents demonstrate that not only is there subornation and disrespect for the media, but also a growing discourse on the part of politicians that deliberately undermines trust in and the credibility of the media.

The DA has now referred these findings by the independent inquiry to the Ethics Committee for urgent consideration. Minister Mantashe’s utterances were clearly an admission of guilt and are in contravention of Section 4.1 of the Code of Ethical Conduct and Disclosure of Members’ Interests of Parliament. In addition to this, both the Minister and the implicated journalists may have contravened Section 3 of the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act.

Parliament has sat on its hands for far too long in this matter and has a duty to send a strong message to all politicians that brown envelope journalism will be dealt with the highest contempt and that those who indulge in such transactions must be held accountable for their actions.

Release of Land Bank financials welcomed, but more transparency is needed 

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the Land Bank’s release of an interim financial statement and its debt restructuring process with investors as transparency regarding its financial troubles is the only way to address its fiscal decline.

The Land Bank has been plagued with financial troubles for a number of years, directly impacting especially emerging farmers who have no other avenue to turn to for financing.

Without strong leadership at the Bank and a political will, the troubles at the Land Bank threatens to destabilise the whole agriculture industry. While a R7 billion bailout were recently announced, this will only bring temporary relief if the Bank does not employ other creative solutions like a blended model. Bailouts to State-owned enterprises (SOEs) does not teach financial responsibility and is both unsustainable and extremely irresponsible and will never be supported by the DA.

The Land Bank is such an important institution that is vital to the South African economy and our food security, as well as that of many neighbouring nations. It has always been an essential link in growing emerging farmers into commercially viable ones and its crumbling financial security is creating an ever-expanding hole in the market.

The release of the interim financials of the Land Bank is a step in the right direction and increased transparency assures investors that the Bank is taking serious steps to address its financial distress, as well as provide a platform for necessary oversight. The Land Bank should take its investors and benefactors into its confidence and consider a road show to all rural communities to keep farmers abreast of its financial situation.

New labour fiat a knockout punch for restaurant and catering industry

The Democratic Alliance (DA) condemns the decision by the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, to extend an agreement with the Bargaining Council for the Fast Food, Restaurant, Catering and Allied Trades to all employers and employees in the industry.

The extension of this agreement, and its enforcement, will deliver the death-blow to an industry that has been battered over the past year and is already on its knees.

The Minister’s extension of the collective bargaining agreement is irrational and ill-advised. It comes at the worst possible time. The coronavirus pandemic, the stringent lockdown regulations that have caused many small businesses to close, and the rolling blackouts that make it incredibly difficult for small-scale fast food outlets, restaurants, and caterers to operate, have all constituted a series of blows. Now Minister Nxesi has delivered a sucker punch.

In terms of the collective bargaining agreement  all employers in the fast-food, restaurant and catering industry will have to:

  • Implement a mandatory increase in hourly wages for various categories of workers and a 1.5% increase over and above inflation on those wages from 1 May 2021onwards.
  • Provide employees who work for 12 consecutive months with one week’s wages as an annual bonus during December, and those working for 24 consecutive months or more with 2 weeks’ wages as a bonus.
  • Provide a stipend of R17.50 per week to employees if they are required to wash their own uniforms.
  • Pay various levies including a levy for ‘Council expenses’ (R5 per month per employee); a ‘general’ levy (R25 per month per restaurant); and a ‘dispute resolution levy’ (R3 a month per employee)

For many employers in the industry, this is simply unaffordable. Many of the fast food outlets, restaurants, and caterers that have remained open only barely survived the hard lockdown. The extension of this agreement may very well result in the complete closure of their businesses. Thousands of workers will lose their jobs as a consequence.

Minister Nxesi urgently needs to reconsider and revoke his latest fiat, lest he wants to become the Minister of Unemployment.

Deputy President Mabuza incapable and unreliable to oversee the vaccine rollout plan

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes the appointment of Deputy President David Mabuza by President Cyril Ramaphosa to head up the inter-ministerial task team to oversee South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan.

We do not believe that Deputy President Mabuza is a competent and reliable figure to oversee this process as he has a history of failure in governance:

  1. As Premier of Mpumalanga, Mabuza ran the province like his own personal fiefdom where corruption, political violence, and the complete collapse of the State is still a lasting legacy in the province.
  2. He currently serves as the Chairperson of the Political Task Team on Eskom, a position in which has has failed dismally. South Africa is nowhere close to energy security since Mabuza has been brought on board, in fact we have been plunged further into darkness.
  3. Mabuza has effectively been an absentee Deputy President since the beginning of Covid-19 crisis. While South Africans were looking to government to show leadership, Mabuza has been in hiding for the past 10 months.

It is, therefore, unconscionable that President Ramaphosa would entrust one of the most monumental tasks of South Africa’s democratic dispensation in the hands of a man who is not only allegedly corrupt but who is clearly incapable of overseeing a programme of this magnitude.

David Mazuba is simply not the right man for the job.

The fact that the President has made this move proves that South Africa’s Covid vaccine plan is now no longer about saving lives. It is about his political alliances within the ANC. This is evidenced by the fact that the President made this announcement via Zoom during the ANC’s Progressive Business Forum, as opposed to an announcement via the appropriate government channels in his capacity as the Head of State.

It is also unclear why, of all the people in the Executive, he would choose somebody who has not done an iota of work on this crisis. This is nothing more than ANC factional battles playing itself out.

The South African government has fundamentally failed the people of South Africa, by their own admission, in their bungling of this vaccine process. And the appointment of David Mabuza is yet another example of this government not prioritising the health and safety of its people.

Crucial oversight visits must continue as planned

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the chairperson of the public enterprises portfolio committee, Khaya Magaxa, to appeal that the committee exercise their constitutional mandate and exercise proper oversight by re-evaluating the decision to cancel three important upcoming oversight visits.

The committee was set to take the following oversight meetings in the next weeks:

  • 27 January: Oversight visit to the Port of Cape Town (Transnet Port Terminal and Property)
  • 28 January: Oversight visit to Transnet Freight Rail and Transnet campus Bellville
  • 2 – 5 February: Alexkor, Alexander Bay Northern Cape

The committee has decided to cancel these oversight visits citing the Covid-19 pandemic as reason. The DA laments this postponement of the first order of business of the committee after a long period of inactivity, particularly as the issue is topical given the revelations at the Zondo Commission. Both Transnet and Alexkor have had damming evidence given against them in the past two weeks at the Commission regarding mass fraud and corruption.

In light that the home affairs committee did oversight visits to investigate the humanity crisis developing at our borders, I cannot see why the Department of Public Enterprises has cancelled their planned oversights.

This postponement certainly seems like an attempt by government to hide something. Parliamentarians must be allowed to do their duties – they hold permits as essential workers. Or are they simply collecting their salaries while questions go unanswered?

No, every moment wasted is another opportunity for the rot of corruption to eat away further at once proud institutions. The only disinfectant is truth through thorough oversight.