Covid-19: Opposition parties call for more transparency over vaccines on eve of rollout

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Opposition parties want more oversight on the vaccine rollout.
Opposition parties want more oversight on the vaccine rollout.
Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
  • The DA wants an ad hoc committee to oversee government's vaccine roll out plan.
  • The IFP wants it scrutinised by Scopa.
  • The EFF wrote to National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise demanding that all details of the plan are publicised in Parliament.

With the rampant corruption in PPE procurement still fresh in mind, opposition parties expressed the need for greater parliamentary oversight of government's Covid-19 vaccine plan.

On Tuesday, a joint sitting of Parliament debated President Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Thursday, in which he didn't provide much detail on the vaccine rollout plan.

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DA MP and spokesperson on health Siviwe Gwarube described SONA as a "vacuous account of the past year and platitudes in the place of concrete plans".

"We got obfuscation instead of accountability," she said. "South Africans are left none the wiser about the most critical intervention needed in this pandemic - a vaccine."

She said Ramaphosa missed an opportunity to tell Parliament of government's plan to acquire vaccines for 40 million South Africans - with specifics on the manufacturers, the amounts and exact timelines; government's plan to ready our health system for the rollout of the vaccine; and the measures in place to ensure that every cent of public money is spent on saving lives instead of landing up in the pockets of corrupt politicians.

READ | Covid-19: 8 things you need to know about the vaccine rollout

"The very week where we heard the devastating news that South Africa had bought vaccines that are ineffective against 501Y.V2 variant, the president chose to provide dinner - table commentary instead of providing leadership," she said.

"Because in reality, to do so, he would have had to take accountability for the litany of avoidable delays we have had throughout this process thus far."

She said Parliament's role has never been more critical.

"We should never make a mockery of this hard-earned democracy by being bench-warmers and yes women and men. We must question and demand excellence for the people who sent us here."

Committee

She said a start would be to agree to establish an ad hoc committee, chaired by the opposition to oversee the work of the inter-ministerial Committee on the Covid-19 vaccine chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza.

She said the IMC should report to the ad hoc committee weekly and do the following:

  • Prioritise securing a sustainable and bulk source of a vaccine;
  • Make the procurement process transparent for scrutiny so that we can make sure that public money is spent on its people;
  • Ensure that every single distribution site, every clinic in every corner of the country has the cold storage capacity, the IT infrastructure and the staffing requirements needed to make this a success; and
  • Ensure that the SIU reports are released urgently and every company found guilty of corruption is blacklisted from this process.

"Guilty politicians, regardless of their seniority in the ANC, must be sent to jail," she said.

Gwarube has twice written to Speaker of the National Assembly Thandi Modise for the establishment of such a committee.

IFP MP Mangosuthu Buthelezi said the corruption around Covid-19 was "unthinkable".

"We are racing against time. Our people are desperate for a vaccine. We are pleased to hear that the first 80 000 doses will arrive this week. But in a country of almost 60 million people, it offers little hope. How will the vaccine be accessed by ordinary people? When will it be available? In the absence of details, and in the presence of corruption, our nation has very little trust," he said.

Process

He said the vaccine rollout tender process should be overseen by the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).

"Parliament must be enabled to perform its constitutional responsibility of oversight. We must halt the business as usual of maladministration and fraud," he said.

Scopa is chaired by IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa.

EFF leader Julius Malema said his party wrote to Modise to "demand that all the details including prices, quantities, contracted middlemen and middle women in the procurement of vaccines must be disclosed to Parliament and the people of South Africa".

"Everyone who stands to personally benefit from the vaccine rollout must face public scrutiny to avoid the repeat of corruption in the rollout of PPE. The truth, however, is that all of this will not happen because of your incompetence, Mr President," Malema said.

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