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Calls to form parliament committee on virus

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'These are unprecedented times'

THE DA has added its voice to calls made by civil society organisations that Parliament should form an ad hoc committee on Covid-19 pandemic.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said he has written to National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise asking her to use her powers to form an ad hoc committee to play the oversight role over the cabinet and ensure the protection of civil rights in the wake of the national lockdown.

This happened days after civil society organisations wrote an open letter to Modise, National Council of Provinces chairperson Amos Masondo and Speakers of nine provincial legislatures saying the National Management Disaster Act did not make a specific obligation on the cabinet to report disaster management efforts to legislatures during the period of disaster.

It took place against the background of President Cyril Ramaphosa having written to Modise notifying her of the “employment” of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to support SAPS to maintain law and order and support other state departments following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In his letter Ramaphosa had also offered to report to the NCOP and joint standing committee of defence the “employment” of SANDF.

In a statement Steenhuisen said Modise should use one of the parliamentary rules to establish an ad hoc committee to ensure continuous oversight over the national executive authority and organs of state, and to ensure that civil liberties are protected at all times during the national lockdown.

Steenhuisen also said his party has committed its full support to Ramaphosa and his cabinet but as the official opposition they still have a duty to hold the executive to account.

“Already this week there have been numerous reports of brutality at the hands of South African National Defence Force Soldiers deployed across South Africa, with more worrying accounts including allegations of soldiers opening fire on residents, and employing unnecessarily authoritarian and zealous violence and language.

“This is absolutely unacceptable, and deeply worrying as it shows a government in contempt of the civil liberties afforded to all South Africans in a free and democratic state,” he said.

“These are unprecedented times and we need to look at extraordinary measures to ensure that we not only combat Covid-19 and the spread thereof in South Africa, but also have extraordinary measures in place to ensure there is consistent and continual accountability for government.

“That is why we are proposing the establishment of an ad hoc committee.”

Steenhuisen also said the proposed committee could meet in a venue determined by it.

“We are proposing that this committee meet via online platforms or videoconferencing facilities to respect the conditions of the lockdown and adhere to the principle of social distancing.

“We need to uphold the rule of law and the constitution at all cost, even in this most unprecedented and unusual of times.”

Last Wednesday, a group of civil society organisations made a similar call on the formation of ad committees in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures. 

In their letter addressed to Modise, National Council of Provinces chairperson Amos Masondo and Speakers of nine provincial legislatures, the group said the National Management Disaster Act did not make a specific obligation on the cabinet to report disaster management efforts to legislatures during the period of disaster.

“We are of the view that this does not prevent the legislature from requiring information and reporting from the executive in this regard,” read a letter from the civil society organisations.

“We would recommend the inclusion of reporting mechanisms to legislatures on measures taken and progress and challenges  regarding implementation within reason under the circumstances.”