Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni
Premium Journalist
3 minute read
11 Feb 2021
5:37 pm

State of disaster extension opens doors for more Covid-19 looting

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

'It is the aspect of emergency procurement that puts us in a position where the national disaster can be exploited and we can see things going to that.'

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Picture: Twitter/@NationalCoGTA

Critics have pointed out that the national state of disaster declared under the Disaster Management Act has opened up state resources for plundering and abuse, because of the lax controls of emergency procurement.

This following yet another extension of the national state of disaster announced on Wednesday evening as government begins its first phase of the Covid-19 roll-out.

A court challenge over the Act was expected to be heard later this week.

Lobby group Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse’s (Outa) parliamentary engagement manager, Matt Johnston, wants government to put itself up to more public scrutiny to minimise the risk of corruption taking away money intended to save lives.

ALSO READ: SA no longer needs to operate under National Disaster Act – expert

“It is the aspect of emergency procurement that puts us in a position where the national disaster can be exploited and we can see things going to that,” said Johnston.

The Disaster Management Act gives the national executive certain powers under a state of national disaster, make certain deviations in normal procurement.

This was justified in the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, he added, where interventions had to be made quickly.

“The problem is that compared to other countries we have a National Covid-19 Command Council (NCCC) which essentially does not report to anyone. Normally those kinds of committees are formed in parliament were there can be more direct accountability.

“Government, therefore, needs to allow for more direct and real-time scrutiny in order to manage the risk of further abuse of state funds in Covid-19 expenditure.

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“There needs to be far more transparency about the tender process at every step of the way, starting with who the applicants are, so that the public can start scrutinising and raising flags where we see the risks appearing. Whether this company has no experience or that company is charging too high a price and so on,” concluded Johnston.

But the Democratic Alliance (DA) was more concerned with the prospect of government officials using the act to hide abuses of power and resources.

The party’s shadow minister for cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta), Cilliers Brink decried the disregarding of parliament oversight in government’s decision to extend the state of national disaster.

Cabinet should have sought the approval of parliament in this decision first, Brink suggested.

“For almost a year now a single cabinet minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has had the near unrestricted power to make regulations that affect every aspect of South African life.

“Instead of creating a temporary means to get an upper hand over the Covid-19 pandemic, the national state of disaster has become a cover for corruption and the abuse of power.”

“It has been behind this ‘cover’ that economically ruinous regulations such as the banning of the sale of alcohol and cigarettes have been crafted, billions in Covid-19 relief funds stolen and the procurement of the vaccine was bungled.”

The DA is challenging the constitutionality of section 27 of the Disaster Management Act and matter is expected to be heard in court this week.

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The party had requested President Cyril Ramaphosa to subject any further extension of the national state of disaster and any further lockdown regulations to debate and approval in Parliament.

Economist, Dick Forslund noted that it was worrying that the pandemic has seen new businesses “mushrooming”, all of whom were aimed at supplying Covid-19 related services and products to government.

Last year, the Competition Commission began prosecuting companies accused of attempting to profiteer off the pandemic.

This after it stated that both the Competition Act and the Disaster Management Act allowed the Competition Commission to prosecute abusive behaviour.

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