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DA unimpressed as Speaker turns down request for urgent debate on Covid-19 vaccine plan

Parliament

South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination plan concerns all South Africans and warrants the continued oversight of Parliament, National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise said as she denied the DA’s request to reconvene the House for an urgent debate on the plan before the end of the year.

Modise said it can be debated in February after Parliament reconvened. On Tuesday, DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone wrote to Modise with a request to that effect.

Mazzone said South Africans were initially told that vaccines covering up to 10% of the population will be administered in the first quarter of 2021, but in his address to the nation on Monday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa had been “advised that we should expect the vaccines in the second quarter of 2021”.

“Coupled with reports that South Africa missed its second payment deadline for the World Health Organisation’s vaccination programme; indications of large-scale PPE [personal protective equipment] corruption; and our government’s generally poor track record when it comes to delivery, it is not unreasonable to be concerned that South Africans will be left behind while the rest of the world opens up their now Covid-free economies and resume normal life in 2021.”

Mazzone said an urgent debate of national importance will allow members of Parliament to engage Cabinet ministers such as Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on their respective departments’ plans and the alternatives they considered.

On Wednesday, Modise wrote back. “National Assembly Rule 130 prescribes that a member may request the Speaker to schedule an urgent debate on a particular matter, but the member must motivate why it should be dealt with in terms of this rule and cannot be taken forward by other means,” Modise wrote.

“In this regard the rule provides that the Speaker must apply certain criteria when exercising her discretion.”

She said South Africa’s participation in the Covax vaccine procurement system is confirmed, but Mkhize still has to provide details on the vaccine roll-out plan.

“The roll-out of a Covid-19 vaccination plan is a matter of ongoing concern for all South Africans and warrants the continued oversight of Parliament.

“In view of the fact that the vaccine will now be available in the second quarter of 2021 as indicated by the executive, I believe this debate should be accommodated when the National Assembly reconvenes in February,” Modise wrote.

She added that the National Assembly Programming Committee will schedule the debate in terms of the rules.

“South Africans deserve to know what the details of the government’s vaccine plan are – and they deserve to know immediately because we can’t afford more waves of infection or rolling lockdowns.”

She said Parliament should not be content to wait on the executive to come with the answers on their own time. “Urgent accountability is required, and Parliament fails in its duty by not demanding answers.

The DA will be writing to the Speaker today, urging her to reconsider the scheduling of the vaccine debate,” Mazzone said.

“Just like the second quarter is too late for the vaccine, so February is too late for a debate of this importance. The Speaker’s decision demonstrates that the ANC still fails to understand that time is of the essence, and we are out of it.”

Parliament rose for the year in the first week of December.

The National Assembly’s rules allow Modise to reconvene the assembly “in exceptional circumstances” and after consultation with the Leader of Government Business, Deputy President David Mabuza, and party whips allow the House to sit.

In December 2019, the DA unsuccessfully requested an urgent debate on Eskom’s rolling blackouts after Parliament rose for the year.

-The Citizen

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