GPL Speaker rules failure of health services, water and electricity supply not urgent

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (GPL) is dismayed that the Speaker of the Legislature, Ntombi Lentheng Mekgwe has used a trivial technicality to prevent two urgent DA debates, one on the water and electricity crisis in the province, and a second debate on the failure of the provincial government to reopen the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg. Evidently, the Speaker deems that the suffering of people denied health services, water and electricity to be not urgent. This is bizarre in view of the raging Covid pandemic and the bitterly cold weather.

The first debate, proposed by DA MPL, Nico de Jager, and if agreed to by the GPL, would see the provincial government call on national government to declare all substations, electrical water reservoirs and water towers across the province as national key points. This move would allow municipalities to isolate electricity supply to electrical water reservoirs and water towers to ensure they are protected from load shedding and prevent further breakdowns that result in days-long water outages. Residents are already subjected to constant Eskom rolling blackouts, on top of unplanned power outages due to ageing and unmaintained infrastructure, but with such a move by the provincial government, the water supply would be stabilized, and residents would be able to maintain personal hygiene, especially during the Covid-19 third wave.

The second debate, proposed by DA MPL Jack Bloom, is on the failure of the provincial government to reopen the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital since its closure on the 16th April. Since then, cancer patients needing chemotherapy and radio therapy have gone without much-needed treatment, or had to struggle seeking treatment from neighbouring hospitals. Kidney patients requiring dialysis have also found themselves without any help. The failure of the provincial government to reopen Charlotte Maxeke has put a severe strain on the province’s efforts to combat the third wave of Covid-19, as the ICU beds in Charlotte Maxeke have still not been made available.

Agreeing to our first debate would get the province one step closer to ensuring a stable water supply to hospitals like Charlotte Maxeke and Rahima Moosa, where shortages were experienced just this past week and patients forced to used half a litre of water to wash and drink.

However, instead of allowing these two critical debates to go ahead, the Speaker cited a trivial technical rule, of which she has the power to overrule, and further stating that it would not be healthy for the GPL to remain in session for so many hours due to Covid-19.

The Speaker’s reasons are selfish and shortsighted. Residents of Gauteng are subjected to water and electrical outages that last up to a week. Extending today’s sitting of the GPL for a few more hours would not cause harm to anyone, especially considering we are conducting the day’s business through a hybrid model, with social distancing and health protocols followed in the House, while other Members are connected virtually from their homes.

Even then, if there was such a concern for safety, the Speaker could declare the debates to go ahead on a fully virtual sitting of the House later today.

The residents of Gauteng are suffering constant electricity outages with municipalities battling to keep up with the breakdowns caused by Eskom load shedding. It is time that the ANC in the GPL stop acting so selfish in their duties, wake up, and realise the true situation on the ground. They have the means to change the situation.

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