When President Ramaphosa announced the Coronavirus pandemic induced lockdown in March this year, general consensus was that South Africans largely stood behind him. We acknowledged that the lockdown was necessary to buy time for government to prepare the country’s medical facilities for the coming months. Trust was built.
The past month however, has seen an erosion of citizens’ trust in Government’s decision-making prowess. Frustrated, angry and afraid South Africans have lost faith in government’s judgment and lack of desire or ability to take the public into their confidence of that which informed their oft-irrational decisions. Keeping the public in the dark has merely fuelled the flames of mistrust and conspiracy thinking. And there’s nothing like doom filled social media hype to perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophetic economic decline.
How did the lockdown that started so well (as if any degree of economic lockdown can be deemed as ‘well’), take such a turn for the worse? OUTA has taken time out to unpack the issue and believes a key factor is that of the unfettered powers granted to the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) Minister, within the flawed Disaster Management Act (DMA). For all intent and purpose, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is effectively more powerful than the President himself.
In mid-May we wrote a letter to the speaker of parliament and the presidency, asking that parliament urgently convene to consider making amendments to the DMA. Our main concern is that the DMA does not have the necessary mechanisms to question or hold government to account when it exercises its emergency powers. Of course we agree that government’s efforts to act with urgency to contain the pandemic are a necessary priority, especially when it comes to disaster management and saving of lives. However, when there are no checks and balances built into the act to ensure accountability and responses to questions that seek transparency on decision-making, then we have a problem. A serious constitutional problem.
When substantive unfettered power lies in the hands of one person in law, regardless of assurances that other committees and councils participate in the decision making process, unanswered questions and irrational responses have a habit of feeding into theories in the mistrusting minds. The kind that gives birth to a new reality and hype that takes an awful amount of PR to correct public opinion. A regular issue of late, for the powers that be.
CIVIL SOCIETY IS GETTING RESTLESS
During the declaration of disaster, government has the power to make new laws and regulations and the act provides the national assembly and civil society no room to question these laws or decisions. In fact, even in the case of a State of Emergency (SoE), the act clearly allows the President to lead and tackle an emergency situation, however Parliament has powers of oversight that are far more demanding (and rightfully so) to keep the President within the boundaries of constitutional freedoms and human rights.
OUTA’s legal advisors have studied Section 27 of the DMA and our assessment is that it does not pass constitutional scrutiny. We believe that these unfettered powers and the lack of scrutiny or oversight by parliament makes it impossible for society to know how government reaches the many important decisions. The same ones the public have a right for insight to.
Our engagement has provided the President and Parliament with sufficient time to digest this serious issue, and despite the fact that we are now moving to Alert Level 3 of the lockdown, we cannot allow this issue to go unchallenged. Unless there is some acknowledgment to correct this gaping void in the DMA, OUTA will have to seriously contemplate its options of further action, however, before we do so, we will assess the flow of current actions unfolding in this space.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT WANTS SALARY INCREASES (Unbelievable)
We have recently written to the Minister of CoGTA to introduce a Moratorium on Local Government council salary increases. Our research shows that almost all municipalities are happily budgeting salary increases and job protection in their business-as-usual-world, while the private ‘tax paying’ sector around them is suffering a sizable economic meltdown. The blinded arrogance that permeates the public sector is simply abhorrent and needs to be addressed, with haste.
This issue and others surrounding the blasé approach by public service leadership, who see no need for austerity measures during this economic crisis, will be attracting a significant amount of OUTA’s attention in the coming months.
DUDU MYENI – DECLARED AS A DELINQUENT DIRECTOR
Hot off the press this week, was the Judgment from the Pretoria High Court that ruled in our favour of having Dudu Myeni declared as a delinquent director. This comes off the back of a long and costly case which required a combination of tenacity, resilience and professional legal action.
Together with the SAA Pilots Association (SAAPA), we persevered and got there. More about this exciting development in the newsletter below.