President Ramaphosa has until 1 pm to explain.
Pretoria – President Cyril Ramaphosa has until 1pm today to explain the structure and powers of the National Command Council on Covid-19.
If he does not, two of the country’s senior lawyers said they may consider approaching their ethical bodies “for directions concerning potential litigation”.
Lawyer Luqmaan Hassan has addressed a nine-page letter to the president on behalf of advocates Nazeer Cassim and Erin Richards in which they expressed their concerns on the council.
Cassim is regarded as one of the country’s top legal minds and he appeared for Ramaphosa in the arms deal case in which Corruption Watch asked that the findings of the Seriti Inquiry be set aside.
Hassan said notwithstanding that his two clients were advocates, they had instructed him in their personal capacities as South Africans to address the letter to the president.
The purpose of the letter is to raise questions and request clarification from the president in his capacity as the chairperson of the council on the body’s structure.
Hassan said his clients were concerned about possible risks of constitutional and democratic malfunctions arising from what appears to be the questionable establishment, structure and functions of the council as well as the “noticeable lack of transparency from the government about the body”.
He said his clients’ view on the information they had been able to access was that the council appeared to be displacing constitutional and statutory functionaries under the Disaster Management Act and compromising parliamentary oversight.
They fear that in turn it opened the door to potential unchecked abuses or excesses of state power.
It was stated in the letter if this was correct, it may affect the constitutional legitimacy of the state of disaster regulations and the lockdown regulations under the prescripts of the act.
The advocates said it was a difficult and frustrating task to find information pertaining to the council and citizens could not exercise their rights when they did not have access to this information.
They said they were “alarmed” by the lack of available information about the command council. The advocates were quoted in the letter as saying tministers and government communications teams had been making contradictory and confusing remarks about the command council.
They described its functions as encompassing everything from being “the centre of information sharing” to “co-ordinating and implementing measures to contain the virus” to “leading the country’s response to the pandemic”.
They said it appeared from the government’s official news portals that the command council comprised 19 ministers.
Also, that it was not just an advisory body, but that it had significant decision making powers.
They referred to the various addresses by the president and some ministers to the nation during this time, in which they said the council had the powers to determine the lockdown plan and determine the coronavirus alert levels.
The letter said it appeared the structure was exercising at least two forms of power, statutory regulation-making powers and executive powers.
The advocates said the co-ordination and management of disasters was dealt with in the act and were the responsibility of the national executive (president and 28 ministers).
“The problem is that the council only consists of 19 ministers Where are the remaining ministers?” the advocates asked.
Under the circumstances they wanted clarification regarding the basis for the establishment of the structure and the extent of its powers.
** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit sacoronavirus.co.za