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.

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.

DA Leader Steenhuisen successfully launches party’s Covid-19 info channel

Please find attached a soundbite from John Steenhuisen MP following the launch of the party’s dedicated Covid-19 information channel. Please also find attached pictures here, here and here.

Today the Democratic Alliance (DA) Leader, John Steenhuisen MP successfully launched “Corona Cast”, the DA’s dedicated Coronavirus information channel.

We will be broadcasting live every Tuesday and Friday at 14:00 on our social media pages to keep citizens informed during the 21-day lockdown period. The broadcast affords a unique opportunity to citizens to ask questions live and receive answers instantly on issues related to the Coronavirus.

The party will be collaborating with and hosting industry experts, its Shadow Cabinet, and public health professionals on the channel to provide up-to-date information on the state of the Coronavirus outbreak in South Africa.

South Africans can make use of the following addresses and platforms to submit queries, raise concerns, and make suggestions:

Email: coronavirus@da.org.za
Webpage: www.da.org.za/defeatingcoronavirus

Those who have missed todays broadcast can still watch it using the following links:

Facebook: https://bit.ly/2WM8W0O
Twitter: https://bit.ly/3dwpEaP
YouTube: https://bit.ly/33In90h

“Now is the time for us to band together as South Africans, put our country first, and defeat the Covid-19 virus.

The next three weeks of lockdown, and the months that follow this period, will be our greatest test as a nation. We can get through this if we stand united against our common enemy.

I ask that all South Africans focus on what needs to be done and comply with everything that is required of them. Our efforts to beat this virus are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. Everyone has to be 100% on board and committed. Every measure is essential. Stay at home, avoid gatherings, maintain your hygiene, and cooperate with law enforcement and the SANDF. These will be trying times, but we must show restraint and peaceful cooperation in everything we do. That is the only way we will win.” – John Steenhuisen MP, Leader of the DA

We need the collaboration of a new majority to shield SA from COVID-19

Note to Editors: Please find attached soundbite and video by John Steenhuisen MP.

Fellow South Africans

Today, as we celebrate our hard-fought human rights, our country stands before one of its greatest tests ever. The spread of COVID-19 through our cities, towns and villages will stretch, to the very limit, the ability of our state to safeguard these human rights. And it will test our resolve and resourcefulness, as a nation, in containing and mitigating this spread, in treating those who require care and in rebuilding our shattered economy.

In our Bill of Rights, in Section 27 of the Constitution, it is written that everyone has the right to have access to health care services, and that no one may be refused emergency medical treatment. Under normal circumstances, upholding these rights has proven hard enough. But the coming months will place our public and private healthcare services under the kind of strain that no one could have foreseen or properly planned for.

This is a time for all South Africans to work together. We cannot afford the distraction of blaming and political point-scoring. Solutions to this crisis – whether financial, logistical or medical – will come from individuals, from the private sector and from right across the political spectrum. It is imperative that we put aside our differences and “park our egos” so that every good idea can be heard and considered.

It is early days yet, but so far my engagements with the President, with my fellow parliamentarians and with many others in business and civil society have been hugely encouraging. Across the board I have seen a genuine desire to stand united as we focus on our common enemy: the spread of the coronavirus.

Some of the emergency measures announced by the President may seem drastic – and indeed, these measures will undoubtedly have a profound effect on our economy and particularly small businesses – but I have no doubt that this was the right call. If you look at what has happened in countries where the spread of the virus wasn’t slowed down soon enough, you realise that tough, bold action is the only option. We simply have to give our healthcare workers every possible chance to treat those who need emergency care, and this means slowing down the rate of infection as much as we can. We can rebuild what we lost in our economy, but we can’t bring back lives that were lost.

I am very proud of the response of my colleagues in the DA and in DA-led governments across the country to this crisis. This is a distressing time for everyone, but they have stepped up with courage and resolve, and have come forward with a host of measures to help combat the spread of the virus, and to mitigate the effects. Premier Alan Winde has convened a Joint Operations Centre focused on mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on the economy of the Western Cape. They have met daily as they seek to find ways to support the key sectors in the province: Tourism and Travel, Conference & Events, Agriculture, Exports, Manufacturing and the Services Sector.

The Province, working with Wesgro, the City of Cape Town and other partners, has also established the COVID-19 Centre for Business. This is a team of 24 staff members who will provide virtual advice and support to businesses, focusing on containment of the virus, adaptation of businesses to make them more resilient, and the recovery of businesses once the pandemic has been contained.

Throughout the province, people from all sectors are rolling up their sleeves and working together. Buses and taxis are being disinfected daily, retailers have redoubled their efforts to keep shelves stocked – and, in some cases, make shopping hours available exclusively to the elderly – and healthcare staff are working around the clock to prepare hospitals and put protocols in place to help deal with the unfolding crisis. This truly is an “all hands on deck” situation.

Each member of our Shadow Cabinet has also written to his or her counterpart in National Government offering the DA’s assistance in this fight. It is encouraging that government seems prepared to put aside differences to work with good ideas, regardless where they may come from. The decision to put UIF payments on hold for the coming months was one of the measures put forward by the DA, and this will undoubtedly buy some leeway for businesses to survive this uncertain period.

But there is much more we can and must do. Government’s response in terms of containment of the virus has been good. Now it needs to do the same to protect our economy and the livelihoods of thousands of business owners and their employees. Small businesses, in particular, do not have the reserves to withstand this crisis on their own, and they will need government’s help.

We need a comprehensive Economic Support Package to see our country through this time, and this package must put the people of South Africa front and centre. We simply cannot go ahead with spending precious money on failed SOEs while this pandemic crushes our economy and plunges millions of South Africans even further into hardship. We have to cancel the R16 billion bailout of SAA and immediately redirect this money to the Economic Support Package.

What we can also do – and these steps have already been put forward by the DA – is put loan and rental payments for small businesses on hold for four months and hit pause on Worker’s Compensation Fund payments (as has been done for UIF), as well as raising the VAT threshold for small businesses from R1 million to R2 million.

I know that some of these ideas will be met with resistance by certain groups within the ruling party but, importantly, not by all of them. There are enough people on both sides of the House who will be prepared to do the right thing to save our country from a post-COVID-19 disaster. And that is why reaching across the aisle and working together has never been more important.

Our country is extremely vulnerable right now, and 59 million South Africans have no choice but to trust that their leaders will do what needs to be done to protect them and safeguard their future. We have no choice but to find each other – to build a new majority that puts our people first. This new majority was always going to be the way forward for our country, but suddenly the timeline has dramatically shortened. We have to do it now.

DA outlines proposals to assist government in fighting Coronavirus

The following comments were delivered at Parliament today at a press conference on Coronavirus.

It is safe to say that we are on the precipice of a full-blown national crisis, the implications of which will be devastating to our society, our economy, and ultimately, our future as a nation. Especially given that South Africa was in a precarious economic state prior to Covid-19’s arrival.

The DA has already pledged its full support to the fight against the spread of Covid-19 in South Africa, and we remain committed to working side-by-side with National Government to stop the spread of this virus and ensure the safety of each and every South African.

Yesterday I convened an urgent meeting of my extended shadow cabinet including the Premier of the Western Cape and the Mayor of the City of Cape Town. The shadow cabinet will reach across the aisle and contact their relevant Ministers offering any assistance they can provide. My shadow cabinet is available to form part of Ministerial task teams and to provide any necessary input into the Covid-19 response.

Each shadow minister has been asked to look at their portfolio and examine what portfolio-specific measures need to be taken to mitigate the effects of the virus while identifying loopholes in the existing measures that need to be plugged. I have also formed a Shadow Cabinet Committee which will meet regularly in order to exercise oversight over the announced response measures and to offer useful and innovative idea and approaches that governments at all levels can adopt in their response efforts.

We will submit these recommendations to the President at a multi-party meeting being held tomorrow in Cape Town:

Economic recommendations:

  • A four-month loan forbearance for businesses.
  • A four-month rental forbearance for small businesses.
  • Pause in VAT, UIF and Worker’s Compensation Fund payments and outstanding VAT refunds should be paid to businesses urgently, and new VAT payments should be deferred to later this year.
  • We are engaging with DA local governments on possible immediate rates payment relief to businesses in their jurisdiction.
  • We propose that business rescue proceedings should receive an automatic three month extension beyond the three months provided for in S132 of the Companies Act; and
  • SAA’s R16.4 billion bailout should be cancelled immediately and the budget amended to allocate this money to disaster management. The Minister should also urgently clarify what funds are available in the National Disaster Management Fund.

Health Mitigation Strategies

  • The private sector should pledge further resources to fight Covid-19.
  • The DoH, through additional funds that must be made available, should sources additional Covid-19 screening and testing.
  • We are calling on the extension of screening and testing capacity through the coordination of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the National Health Laboratory Service and private laboratory services.
  • Public hotspots should be implemented as a matter of urgency. This would transport hubs, workplaces such as mining companies and communities.
  • The DoH should urge retired healthcare professionals to come out of retirement on a voluntary basis to be deployed to screening hotspots and managing public queries on the public hotline. The DoH should also be reaching out to medical students who can provide the service over and above their training.
  • The Coronavirus public hotline should be expanded and capacitated. This can be in collaboration with private partners who are already running call-centre companies.
  • Health and safety officials who fall within the local government structures should be deployed to shopping centres and places of high frequency to ensure that businesses are complying with the basic requirements of protecting their staff members and the public.

Other Mitigation Strategies

  • Parliament needs to close down, except for essential services. It is therefore disappointing that the ANC has pushed for Parliament to go ahead with a National Assembly sitting tomorrow. As Parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to set an example during this unprecedented time.
  • South African law enforcement should be deployed to monitor and assess the roll-out of mitigation strategies across the country.
  • Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula, however, gave a very brief and vague plan as to how he will ensure the hygiene and sanitisation of passenger rail services across South Africa. This must be better though-out.
  • Minister Blade Nzimande should shut down universities and suspend lectures in order to mitigate or contain the spread of Covid-19.
  • The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation should consider piloting a system whereby the visas of foreign residents currently in South Africa can be extended.
  • In municipalities and rural regions of the country where water is either scarce or has run out completely, mobile water supplies must be made available for hygiene purposes.
  • The DA last week wrote to the chairperson of the portfolio committee on water and sanitation to request a meeting between all relevant stakeholders to address the impact of Covid-19 on water and sanitation infrastructure.
  • In light of the National Disaster declaration, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs must put systems in place to monitor the implementation of contingency measures in municipalities, ensuring that disaster management funds are spent efficiently and effectively.

The Western Cape Government

  • The Premier of the Western Cape, Alan Winde, has put in place a Central Provincial Structure to monitor and mitigate the Covid-19 virus.
  • The Joint Operations Centre has been activated 2 weeks ago and is operational on a 24/7 basis.
  • Work streams are meeting daily at 10:00 and there is a daily Cabinet meeting at 12:30 to receive updates and take the necessary emergency decisions.
  • A provincial Covid-19 hotline was introduced to relieve the pressure on the national hotline. The provincial hotline number is: 021 928 4102.
  • Using the Joint District Approach, local governments across the Western Cape have action plans.
  • Outbreak response teams are in place.
  • Radio messages in the three official languages of the Western Cape have been issues.
  • The Western Cape government are briefing various sectors, including sporting, cultural and religious bodies.
  • This morning, the DA Minister of Agriculture in the Western Cape, Ivan Meyer, closed the Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute from Wednesday 18 March until 14 April as a precautionary measure.
  • Officials returning from overseas, will self-quarantine for 14 days.

City of Cape Town

  • Mayor Dan Plato has established a Coronavirus Task Team
  • City has closed various recreational hubs to avoid non-essential contact
  • The City has taken the decision to withdraw permits for previously approved events
  • MyCiti buses will no longer allow more than 20 persons on
  • The City has stopped non-essential travel

Call to Action

South Africa is an incredibly resilient nation, and we are known as a people to band together under any set of circumstances in order to overcome any obstacle.

The DA is leading by example. In addition to the postponement, the Party has also suspended all political meetings across the country. We have also taken precautionary to prevent the spread of Coronavirus among DA staffers. At our Federal Head Office in Cape Town, we have sent non-essential staff home for them to work remotely, de-densified our offices to prevent close contact, and conducted a full sanitisation of our offices.

Covid-19 is a collective issue which can only be solved through a collective response, and South Africa needs everyone to get on board. We need to ensure that we break the chain of infection in order to stop the virus in its tracks. This is precisely why travel restrictions, self-quarantine, and good hygiene practices are so crucial. We need to understand that while the virus may not be fatal to ourselves, it may cause the death of someone who may contract the virus from us in the greater chain of infection.

Understanding this phenomenon is key to tackling this outbreak, and public awareness campaigns must focus on this.

In this spirit, I want to make the following Calls to Action to get each and every level of society on board with the fight against Covid-19.

Private Sector Support

  • I want to appeal to the private sector to consider adapting its operations where possible to accommodate the President’s announced contingency measures. This includes allowing staff to work from home, providing less densified work environments for essential staff, and ensuring that workplaces are clean and sanitised at all times.
  • I also want to call on big business to get involved. Telecommunications companies such as Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom should consider making discounted or free data packages available for students accessing online learning platforms remotely. The private healthcare sector can assist government in augmenting patient capacity and providing additional medical supplies to regions where they are needed.
  • I want to call on private medical aids to make Covid-19 testing freely available on all plans without unnecessary conditions in order to fast track detection and quarantine.

We will only defeat Covid-19 if we roll up our sleeves and do the hard yards for the good of our country. Now is the time for us to band together as South Africans, put our country first, and defeat the Covid-19 virus.

IPPs: Mabuza pandering to the loony left

Co-sign DA Leader, John Steenhuisen’s, letter calling for freedom from Eskom: www.powertothepeople.org.za

Deputy President David Mabuza’s comments in the National Council of Provinces today that Independent Power Producers (IPPs) don’t make any difference to South Africa’s electricity security, demonstrates a woeful ignorance of the role these generation entities play in shoring up the failure of Eskom.

What makes this statement worse, is that it comes during the height of Africa Energy Week and the Africa Energy Indaba, at which the Department of Energy is promoting the roll-out of IPPs.

According to the March 2019 Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme Quarterly Report, at that time 3976 MW of electricity generation capacity from 64 IPP projects had been connected to the national grid. That is the equivalent of staving off 4 stages of loadshedding.  The same report goes on to point out that:

  • Installed and operational capacity of the 64 IPPs is the equivalent of 83% of the capacity of the Medupi power station at full capacity;
  • As at March 2019, 100% of IPPs scheduled to be operational have commenced commercial operations; and
  • The average lead time for these 64 projects to complete construction was 1.9 years.

Mabuza is pandering to the loony left in dismissing Independent Power Producers as irrelevant.

Only today, the country’s economic decline was confirmed.

Much of the problem can be attributed to the lack of electricity. Businesses are closing their doors because they do not have a guaranteed supply of electricity, and mining companies are retrenching and disinvesting for the same reason.

The reality is that these IPPs are keeping the lights on. They are the only hope in the short term of alleviating the burden on a dying Eskom. They are the only solution that can be brought on line quickly, using external capital rather than incurring more debt within Eskom or the national fiscus.

Mabuza needs to reevaluate his role as chair of the Eskom War Room, which was initially established to “deal with any challenges to our energy supply in the country”, according to the cabinet minutes of 13 December 2019, when South Africa was at the height of stage 6 rolling blackouts.

It appears that now that the pressure has eased slightly, Mabuza is less committed to solving our energy crisis, and more enamored of propping up Eskom at any cost.

President Ramaphosa needs to demonstrate to South Africa that he calls the shots. He needs to pull Mabuza into line, or get rid of him.

South Africa cannot afford more disruption to its power supply or its economy, and Mabuza’s comments are indicative of a government that is firmly committed to a path that leads to both.

If Ramaphosa fails to do so, he will basically be admitting that it is Mabuza who sets government policy.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has tabled legislation (the Independent Electricity Market Operator Bill) to open up the electricity supply market, and allow IPPs to compete on a level playing field with Eskom.

This aligns with both the Integrated Resource Plan and the needs of South Africa.

We need to give power to the people now!