Labour Centres should remain open to process flood of UIF claims

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is calling upon the Department of Employment and Labour to re-open the main labour centres in all nine provinces to deal with the flood of Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) claims that will be submitted as a result of the 21-day lockdown period.

On 27 March, the Department indicated that all labour centres would be closed for the duration of the lockdown, and advised members of the public to stop visiting them. Instead, employers and workers were advised to access the Department’s services – such as the downloading and submission of UIF forms – electronically.

The Department’s rationale for closing labour centres was to limit the spread of Covid-19. While understandable, the effect of this move has been to leaveUIF claimants stranded at a time when they need the Department’s help most acutely.

Many UIF claimants do not have computers to access the Department’s services online. They need to be able to access hard copies of the relevant forms and submit them manually. It should be possible for the Department to continue offering a pared-down frontline service while enforcing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures at labour centres.

A vast number of small business owners who are unable to pay their workers’ salaries during the lockdown will need to apply for the UIF’s Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (Covid-19 TERS) benefit. This benefit pays towards the salary costs of employees during the temporary closure of business operations.

Currently, applicants for the Covid-19 TERS beneft cannot submit manual applications. They are served by one email address (covid19ters@labour.gov.za) and a hotline number (012 337 1997) for benefit enquiries.

Clearly this will not be sufficient to respond to the high number of enquiries and applications occasioned by the lockdown.

The Department of Employment and Labour should re-open the main labour centres in each provice and capacitate the UIF to deal with the deluge of claims coming its way.

Vosloorus killing: DA welcomes swift action by IPID

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the arrest of an EMPD officer in connection with the killing of Sibusiso Amos, a 40-year old resident of Vosloorus, following swift action from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).

This comes after Amos was allegedly shot and killed yesterday by an Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department (EMPD) officer, and a second man, enforcing the Covid-19 lockdown.

South Africa is only four days into the Covid-19 lockdown and already the nation has witnessed harrowing incidents of police brutality and violence against the public.

I will be submitting an incident report to IPID on all instances reported to me of excessive violence and misconduct at the hands of law enforcement officials during this time.

IPID has a critically important role to play during this lockdown and must be swift, strict and unrelenting in their investigations against any criminal behaviour by law enforcement officers.

While police officials have a mandate to enforce the lockdown regulations without fear or favour, the blatant display of violence; disregard of human rights and incidents of humiliation is disgraceful and goes against the very foundations of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The DA reiterates our call for Parliament to establish an ad hoc committee to perform Executive oversight and ensure the protection of civil liberties during the lockdown as these cases of violence and abuse cannot go unabated.

The DA sends its deepest condolences to the family of Mr Amos and hopes for the speedy recovery of the children who were caught in the cross-fire.

Mboweni’s economic structural reform programme should be bold, inclusive and transparent

There is new impetus for urgent structural reform. We urge the President and Finance Minister to act now on the wide-ranging structural reforms our economy urgently needs.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s admission to Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, that “We now need to move more boldly on the structural reforms programme” is welcome. For years the DA has been calling for a programme of economic structural reform to increase investment, grow the economy and create jobs.

Now this programme is needed not to grow the economy, but to save it from destruction.

Over the last decade our economy has been crippled by profligate government spending, an explosion in our national debt, and rampant corruption. Now that our economy has been downgraded to junk status by Moody’s, there seems to be some fresh realisation from the President and his team that urgent action is necessary. Better late than never.

Minister Mboweni should therefore ensure that he:

  • provides a clear outline of what the economic structural reform programme will entail, with targets and timelines;
  • outlines the specific interventions that the government will pursue to promote investment and growth;
  • provide details on the composition of the Vul’indlela Unit that he plans to establish in the Ministry to drive the reform agenda

Minster Mboweni only has one shot at getting economic reform right. Piecemeal concessions that seek to retain the status quo and appease the ANC’s competing factions won’t cut it this time around. What we need is a concerted effort to turn South Africa’s economy away from strangling state control towards investment led growth.

South Africa path to recovery can only begin if the ANC government is ready and willing to:

  • hold a firm line against trade unions who are intent on reversing the decision to cut R160 billion from the state wage bill;
  • reduce the number of public sector managers who do not deliver front-line services;
  • support the DA’s proposed Fiscal Responsibility Bill, which holds the key to reducing national debt and debt service costs;
  • free South Africans from Eskom’s death spiral by opening the energy market to IPPs;
  • disinvest from zombie state owned enterprises and immediately put a stop to further bailouts; and
  • introduce far ranging reforms to ease up the labour regime and end the centralised power of bargaining councils.

That South Africa is in the middle of an economic crisis, made worse by Covid-19, is beyond doubt. What matters is whether we are willing to take the bold action needed to create the required conditions to grow the economy and create jobs.

DA to share “Blue Book” of comprehensive COVID-19 measures with President Ramaphosa

Please find attached soundbite from John Steenhuisen MP.

The Democratic Alliance will today share with President Ramaphosa a document containing a host of solutions, recommendations and observations around the combating and mitigation of COVID-19 in South Africa. This collection of submissions from our entire Shadow Cabinet – under the working title “Blue Book” – aims to help share the burden of fighting this battle by casting the net wide in search of good ideas.

This coronavirus pandemic has plunged our country, and indeed the world, in an unprecedented crisis. Never before has the need for unity and cooperation been more important. It is in this spirit that the DA Shadow Cabinet members have applied their minds in seeking a wide range of possible solutions to the many challenges we will no doubt face as a country in the coming months.

Following my meeting with the President and other opposition parties, I pledged to him the support of the DA in fighting the spread of the virus and dealing with its economic fallout. I immediately briefed my Shadow Cabinet to explore every possible avenue when it comes to protecting the people of South Africa, not only from the deadly virus itself but also from the economic hardship that will undoubtedly follow. This Blue Book document is the culmination of this effort, and contains recommendations for every government department.

Some of these recommendations – such as those that came from our Finance cluster under the guidance of Geordin Hill-Lewis MP – have already been shared, and even implemented. Our suggestions for a stay in UIF payments by businesses as well as loan repayment holidays have already been taken up by government and some of the commercial banks. It is encouraging that, in this time of crisis, all parties appear to be open to a wide range of ideas, and that political differences have been put aside.

There is, however, much more than can and must be done. And it is our hope that the President and his Cabinet will keep the same open mind when reviewing the submissions in this document.

He will find, for example, crucial steps that can be taken to help protect our Agriculture sector and maintain our country’s food security through this challenging period. There is also a range of ideas to assist teachers in reaching children with learning material while schools are affected by closures. While some of the sections of the document deal with the medium to long-term effects, others such as the healthcare submissions are for urgent implementation as they deal with the state’s capacity to test, screen and treat patients during the peak of the crisis.

Another crucial recommendation is to ensure the protection of the civil liberties of all South Africans during this lockdown through the establishment of an ad hoc committee of the National Assembly which can provide continuous oversight over the national executive authority and organs of state. The DA has written to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, to request that she uses the power at her disposal in terms of Rule 253(1)(b) of the Rules of the National Assembly to establish such an ad hoc committee.

There have been numerous worrying reports these past three days of brutality at the hands of the SANDF and police, including instances of shots being fired at civilians and even a report of a man being shot and killed in Vosloorus. These actions are unacceptable in our democracy. We cannot allow such heavy-handed authority to go unchecked, and the establishment of accountability measures are key.

I would like to reiterate the committed support of the DA for the measures undertaken by the President in fighting this common enemy of ours. These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary actions, within the framework of our Constitution and the law. We are one united country as we face this challenge together.

The DA understands the need for bold, decisive actions, and we stand 100% behind the lockdown measures of the next three weeks. In this spirit of cooperation, I trust that the President will receive this document with an open mind and accept the help on offer.

Abuse by SANDF disgusting: DA calls on Military Ombudsman to investigate

The Democratic Alliance (DA) strongly condemns videos making the rounds on social media of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members forcing civilians, who allegedly did not abide by the lockdown regulations, to do squats and push-ups.

There are also videos emerging of SANDF members physically abusing people who allegedly did not abide by the regulations.

This behaviour is disgusting and the DA condemns it in the strongest terms.

Upon viewing these videos, the DA immediately wrote to the Military Ombudsman, General (Ret) Vusi Masondo, to request an independent investigation as the SANDF’s actions are a gross violation of the military’s mandate and of the Bill of Rights.

I also engaged the acting Chief of the Army, Major General M.J. De Goede, who confirmed that the matter had been registered for investigation. We trust that this investigation will be transparent and that the SANDF and SAPS members involved will be held fully accountable for their deplorable behaviour.

While we agree that those who do not comply with the lockdown regulations should face the consequences for their actions, in accordance to the lockdown regulations, we condemn any act which seeks to humiliate and degrade citizens. The DA has written to the Minister of Defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, in this regard.

South Africa is a constitutional democracy, not a military state. Despite the country being in an unprecedented period in our democratic history; the rule of law, the Bill of Rights and our Constitution must be adhered to at all times.

DA calls for clarity and consistency in applying lockdown regulations to spaza shops

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to Small Business Development Minister, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, requesting a clear and public pronouncement from her on the question of spaza shops being allowed to operate during the lockdown, and urging a consistent application of the regulations, in line with the rule of law.

The Minister previously said during a ministerial briefing that all spaza shops in communities would be allowed to operate during the lockdown period (as explicitly provided for in paragraph B of Annexure B, in reference to Regulation 11A, which deals with essential services). However she went on to muddy the waters by saying that “those spaza shops that will be open are strictly those that are owned by South Africans, managed and run by South Africans”.

This is a hugely problematic statement for two reasons:

  • There is no provision in the regulations for differentiation between South African- and immigrant-owned spaza shops, so there is no basis in law to target micro-retailers for closure according to the nationality of the owner(s); and
  • Spaza shops are usually the closest shop for residents in most communities to get basic foodstuffs and household essentials. If the idea of the lockdown is to have “as little movement as possible”, as was said by Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, then spaza shops need to be open, now more than ever, otherwise the lockdown is rendered ineffective if people have to go to shopping malls, thus travelling and congregating in larger numbers.

Furthermore, many such residents do not have a means of transport (with minibus taxi and bus operations being suspended or heavily curtailed) or the money to travel, should they find the transport to take them shopping.

I will also ask Minister Ntshavheni to communicate with her counterpart in the Police portfolio, Minister Bheki Cele, concerning police action in this regard.

We have received reports of SAPS officers being confused about whether or not to close unlicensed spaza shops (regardless of ownership) and an executive directive is needed informing the police that such spaza shops must be allowed to remain open, in aid of ensuring minimal movement by consumers during the lockdown, but must then be referred to the local municipality or Small Business Development Department to assist them to become compliant.

The DA understands that the various state organs are navigating uncharted waters during this unprecedented time but the authorities should not miss the wood for the trees and thus lose sight of the substantive issues underpinning the lockdown.

DA Calls for activation of Rural Community Policing Structures

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to Minister Bheki Cele requesting that existing community policing structures in rural areas assist SAPS during the lockdown.

Criminal elements in rural areas are likely to exploit the lockdown for their own nefarious purposes. While fighting the Coronavirus we must also ensure that crime prevention is at the top of our agenda.

The DA supports the intention of the SAPS instruction preventing Community Policing Forums (CPFs) and Neighbourhood Watches (NHWs) from active deployment during the lockdown. This is incredibly important in densely populated urban environments in order to limit the spread of the Coronavirus.

Rural communities, however, are sparsely populated and increasingly vulnerable to criminal elements during the lockdown while SAPS is focused on enforcing the regulations. It is important for SAPS to consider, on a case by case basis, the deployment of existing rural community policing structures to be their eyes and ears in rural areas.

These community policing structures must operate within the existing command structure and comply fully with all applicable legislation. It must be made clear to all that only SAPS, with the support of the SANDF, are responsible for enforcing the regulations.

Together we can defeat the Coronavirus and keep our communities safe. 

DA proposes establishment of ad hoc committee for Executive oversight and protection of civil liberties

The DA has written to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, to request that she uses the power at her disposal in terms of Rule 253(1)(b) of the Rules of the National Assembly to establish an ad hoc committee of the National Assembly in order to ensure continuous oversight over the national executive authority and organs of state, and to ensure that civil liberties are protected at all times during this lockdown.

Section 55(2) of the Constitution directs the National Assembly to:

(a) to ensure that all executive organs of state in the national sphere of government are accountable to it; and

(b) to maintain oversight of-

(i) the exercise of national executive authority, including the implementation of legislation; and

(ii) any organ of state.

While the Democratic Alliance (DA) has committed its full support to President Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet, we as the official opposition, as well as our fellow opposition parties in the Assembly, still have a duty to hold the Executive to account.

Already this week there have been numerous reports of brutality at the hands of South African National Defence Force Soldiers deployed across South Africa, with more worrying accounts including allegations of soldiers opening fire on residents, and employing unnecessarily authoritarian and zealous violence and language. This is absolutely unacceptable, and deeply worrying as it shows a government in contempt of the civil liberties afforded to all South Africans in a free and democratic state.

These are unprecedented times and we need to look at extraordinary measures to ensure that we not only combat Covid-19 and the spread thereof in South Africa, but also have extraordinary measures in place to ensure there is consistent and continual accountability for government.

That is why we are proposing the establishment of an ad hoc committee.

Rule 167(g) indicates that a committee may meet in a venue determined by it. We are proposing that this committee meet via online platforms or videoconferencing facilities to respect the conditions of the lockdown and adhere to the principle of social distancing.

We need to uphold the rule of law and the constitution at all cost, even in this most unprecedented and unusual of times.

SAA on the skids

The news that yet another South African Airlines (SAA) CEO, Zuks Ramasia, has resigned is a further indication that SAA cannot be rescued.

It must surely be clear that the extension to the end of May 2020 for Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, the business rescue practitioners, to produce a business rescue plan is simply going to delay the inevitable liquidation of SAA.

This unprecedented two-month extension given to the business rescue practitioners by the SAA creditors will result in billions of rands of unnecessary taxpayer bailouts to meet SAA overhead costs such as fixed contracts and employee costs. Not to mention the millions of rands now being paid to Matuson and Dongwana and their very expensive additional staff and/or consultants appointed in terms of the business rescue process.

All this at a time when SAA has virtually no revenue for at least three weeks with most, if not all aircraft grounded because of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Despite the urgency of the situation, Matuson and Dongwana have not acknowledged a letter from the Democratic Alliance (DA) sent to them a week ago urging them to invoke section 141(2)(a)(ii) of the Companies Act 71 of 2008, and to apply to court for the SAA business rescue proceedings to be discontinued and for the airline to be placed in liquidation. A rather unfortunate indication of the apparent disdain with which they hold parliament and its members.

The DA has submitted a written parliamentary question to Pravin Gordhan, the Minister of Public Enterprises, to request details of the costs of the business rescue practitioners, as well as all the additional people and consultants employed or commissioned by Matuson and Dongwana.

Moody’s downgrade: Mboweni should table urgent new budget after lockdown

The decision by Moody’s to downgrade South Africa’s credit rating to junk is largely explained by two things: The government’s inability to get our national debt under control, and its inability to reform the electricity sector to allow for competitive generation. Our economic outlook is definitely worsened by the current Coronavirus crisis, but this is not the primary cause of this downgrade. 

We believe that as soon as the current national lockdown is over, Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni should table a new, emergency budget in Parliament.

This is necessary now, as none of the revenue and growth assumptions on which the February budget was based still survive. Revenue and growth projections are collapsing.

The Minister should see this as an opportunity to table an entirely new budget which lays the groundwork for a recovery once this crisis is over, and more importantly, fundamentally changes South Africa’s economic trajectory.

If we do not fundamentally change course our fiscal position will become unsustainable, and will make an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout necessary and unavoidable.

At the moment, we are on a course of slow and relentless decline. This must be stopped and turned around with decisive action from both the President and Minister Mboweni. 

For as long as there is not fundamental economic policy reform to turn South Africa’s economy away from strangling state control and towards growth, there will not be hope of regaining our investment grade rating. 

Bold leadership, free from the shackles of vested interests in the ANC’s competing factions, is what South Africa needs to dig itself out of this economic nightmare.

South Africa path to recovery can only begin if the ANC government is ready and willing to:

  • hold a firm line against trade unions who are intent on reversing the decision to cut R160 billion from the state wage bill; 
  • reduce the number of public sector managers who do not deliver front-line services;
  • support the DA’s proposed Fiscal responsibility Bill, which holds the key to reducing national debt and debt service costs;
  • free South Africans from Eskom’s death spiral by opening the energy market to IPPs;
  • disinvest from zombie state owned enterprises and immediately put a stop to further bailouts; and 
  • introduce far ranging reforms to ease up the labour regime and end the centralised power of bargaining councils. 

 The ANC’s obstinate refusal, over the years, to do the necessary and implement structural reforms has led us straight into a full-blown economic crisis.