SA TIMES-Dodging questions, we need scientifically calculated answer from Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma but does not have the reasons why the Covid-19 pandemic was declared a national disaster available.
The “scientific rationale” relied on to ban the sale of tobacco products is also not available, nor the reasons why alcohol sales are allowed under Level 3 lockdown.
This according to Dlamini-Zuma’s recent written replies to questions posed by opposition MPs which were published in the past week.
DA MP Gizella Opperman asked her: “What are the reasons that informed the decision to declare Covid-19 a national disaster instead of a provincial or local disaster and what data was used to classify the disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act, Act 57 of 2002?
Dlamini-Zuma’s full response read: “The reasons that informed the decision to declare Covid-19 a national disaster will be submitted to the honourable member as soon as the detailed information is available. Thank you.”
DA MP Zakhele Mbhele asked: “With reference to her assertion that the sale and use of tobacco products is associated with increased risk of the spread of SARS-CoV-2, which she used to justify the prohibition of tobacco product sales, what is the scientific rationale and empirical basis for the prohibition; whether she and/or her department assessed the countervailing hypothesis that nicotine actually minimises the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, as suggested by data showing a disproportionate under-representation of habitual smokers in infection cases; if not, why not; if so, what conclusions have been drawn in this regard?”
He received the exact same response as Opperman.
This is not the first time Dlamini-Zuma dodged a written question about the controversial tobacco ban.
Last month, DA MP Dean Macpherson asked her in a written question for information on the public submissions her department had received and relied on to make changes to the regulations when the lockdown was lowered to Level 4.
Her answer read: “The information requested by the honourable member is not readily available in the department. The information will be submitted to the honourable member as soon as it is available.”
While Dlamini-Zuma’s department appears not to have the information available when opposition MPs asks for it, they have managed to find it when she filed responding papers to the legal challenges against the regulations, including the cigarette ban.
On 29 April, she shocked the country, especially smokers, when she announced the cigarette sales ban would remain in place during Level 4 of the lockdown.
This, days after President Cyril Ramaphosa said cigarette sales would be allowed on that level.
Dlamini-Zuma said the Cabinet had decided to rescind its decision to allow for the sale of cigarettes after it considered 2 000 public submissions supporting the ban.
She argued while Covid-19 was a relatively new virus, early studies supported the view using tobacco products not only increased the risk of catching it, it also put people at risk of contracting a more serious form of it.
The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) served the government with court papers in early May to challenge the ban.
After Dlamini-Zuma filed responding papers, Fita claimed according to its count, there were 1 535 public submissions, of which 47.2% had nothing to do with cigarettes, 23.3% were in favour of the ban being lifted and 29.6% wanted the ban to remain.
The DA filed a complaint against her at Parliament’s ethics committee in this regard.
This past weekend, News24 reported about Dlamini-Zuma’s affidavit that was recently lodged in another case, the one brought by British American Tobacco South Africa and other tobacco groupings to have the ban undone.
She has also found the information available when she defended the tobacco ban during an oral question session in a virtual sitting of the National Assembly.
Misleading Parliament is a violation of the Code of Ethical Conduct and Disclosure of Members’ Interests for Assembly and Permanent Council Members.
In February 2018, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane found Lynne Brown, then minister of state-owned enterprises, had “inadvertently misled Parliament” in a written reply to a parliamentary question from December 2016 about whether Eskom had paid money to Trillian.
Parliamentary questions are considered an essential mechanism to hold ministers to account. The DA has in the past also complained about Dlamini-Zuma not responding to questions, using the unavailability of the requested information as an excuse.
Dlamini-Zuma, who plays a key role in the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, has used this excuse in response to several questions posed to her which has been published since Thursday. In some cases, she referred the member who asked the question to another department.
In one case, DA MP in the National Council of Provinces Mlindi Nhlanhla managed to elicit more than the standard response. He asked whether ministers are allowed to change any lockdown regulations if it affects their department.
“The Disaster Management Act empowers the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, after consulting the Cabinet, to make regulations or issue directions or authorise the issue of directions. The position or relevant details will be submitted to the honourable member as soon as they are compiled. Thank you,” read Dlamini-Zuma’s full answer.
Here are some of the questions she dodged:
- Whether she has found there is any regulation that has been imposed by the National Coronavirus Command Council since 26 March 2020 as a measure to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic that suspended or limited fundamental human rights; if not, how was this conclusion reached; if so, what are the relevant details?
- What steps were taken to ensure that regulations and/or measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic that is premised on international best practice were adjusted to meet the existing challenges in the republic, in particular the risks of famine among persons who have lost their income and access food?
- What are the full relevant details of how the existing real-time information measures up with the initial projections or models upon which a national disaster was declared and a national lockdown to curb the spread of the virus was imposed and adjustments have been made to the initial strategies to align them with reality?
- What are the reasons that the curbing measures are applied wholesale and throughout the republic while certain provinces such as the Northern Cape have clearly shown very small increases and a high recovery rate in infections?
FF Plus MP Michal Groenewald:
- Whether, regarding the fact that most municipalities do not apply the principle of no-work-no-pay, resulting in unprotected illegal strikes, the government engaged with the trade unions to protect the taxpayers and ensure that they receive value for money for taxes and rates that they pay by allowing municipal employees to rather claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund during the period of lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 in line with other citizens who are on a no-work-no-pay arrangement?
- Whether her department purchased any goods and/or services below the amount of R500 000 connected to the Covid-19 pandemic and whether there was any deviation from the standard supply chain management procedures in the specified transactions? (The FF Plus asked similar questions of other ministers, who generally have had the information available).
- Whether officials in her department over 60 years of age are still allowed to work at the department’s offices?
DA MP Carin Visser:
- What actions are her department taking to help municipalities indebted to Eskom to ensure a stable electricity supply to its residents?
DA MP George Michalakis:
- Which municipality is regarded as the capital of the Republic of South Africa?
EFF MP Kenny Motsamai:
- Whether she has been informed that the residents of Moeka Village in North West report crimes to the Temba police station in Tshwane?
EFF MP Sam Zandamela:
- How will she ensure that the funds allocated to municipalities are used for its intended purposes?
DA MP Mbulelo Sileko:
- Whether any municipalities adopted unfunded budgets for the 2020/2021 year?
- Whether any municipalities are formulating economic recovery strategies for the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic? How the additional R20 billion funding for municipalities will be allocated?
EFF MP Moletsane Moletsanse:
- What informed the sale of alcohol during Level 3 of the lockdown?
DA MP Sonja Boshoff:
- Whether schools with boarding facilities will be used as quarantine sites in Mpumalanga?
EFF MP Andrew Arnolds:
- Whether her department will take any corrective steps to assist municipalities facing collapse before the lockdown?