Disaster Act not correct law to deal with Covid-19, says expert.
With eight weeks left for South Africa’s state of disaster to reach a year, a legal expert said on Tuesday the Disaster Management Act used by the government to regulate the Covid-19 crisis gave President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Cabinet carte blanche to extend the period without parliamentary oversight.
Unlike a state of emergency, which would have ensured government’s accountability to parliament, the disaster regulations enabled Ramaphosa to “run the show indefinitely without supervision by [members of parliament]”, according to Accountability Now director advocate Paul Hoffman.
He maintained the Act, which was “drafted with floods, fires and droughts in mind – nothing to do with viruses at all”, was a bad law to regulate Covid-19.
“In applying legislation, government went for a state of disaster instead of an emergency because the president and ministers get carte blanche powers to run the show without parliamentary supervision.
“Under a state of emergency, enshrined in the constitution, there would have been far more stringent conditions applying, as well as supervision by parliament. No wonder why they chose to use the Disaster Management Act.
“The law is not at all clear on whether this is an appropriate occasion for a state of disaster or whether an emergency should have been declared – or whether the matter should have been dealt with under existing health regulations.
“The state of disaster can be renewed indefinitely. The constitution, does not explicitly deal with states of disaster, but
states of emergency, meaning this can go on for a long time.”
Referring to the Supreme Court of Appeals challenge of the Disaster Management Act by Liberty Fighters Network, Hoffman said government’s legal approach to the pandemic was “irrational”.
“In my Politicsweb article last May, I quoted [Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister] Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma [as saying] the pandemic was an opportunity for radical economic transformation and rolling out the revolution.
“She revealed that government has used the pandemic as a pretext for the authoritarian seizure of control of the levers of power and for bypassing parliamentary oversight.
“Until the Constitutional Court rules on whether it is appropriate to use the Disaster Management Act, the state of emergency or health regulations in the circumstances, we are in trouble.
“Government has clearly chosen an option suiting ulterior motives disclosed…at that press conference marking the beginning of the lockdown about this being an opportunity of using the health crisis for their own ends.
“There are people who will argue that this…ought to have been dealt with in terms of health regulations or a state of emergency at a stage when we did not have [personal protective equipment] and medical facilities in place, with infected people in need of vaccines.
“If you take that argument to a logical conclusion, it has been argued that declaring a State of Disaster was an irrational response to Covid-19.”
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