In President Ramaphosa’s 18 April address to the nation, he declared that the National Disaster Management Centre’s previous week’s classification of the flooding as a ‘provincial disaster’, is inadequate to deal with the scale of the emergency and the required reconstruction and rehabilitation responses.
President Ramaphosa stated that the Port of Durban and its infrastructure is crucial for the effective operation of the country’s economy and as such the disaster has implications for the entire country, and also added that with heavy rains and flooding in the Eastern Cape and indications from the South African Weather Service that the North West and Free State provinces may also be affected by bad weather, “it is clear that there are other areas of the country that need emergency intervention.”
The President then stated that Cabinet met in a special session the previous night and decided to declare a national State of Disaster: “The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs will gazette the declaration. This is to ensure an effective response across all spheres of government to the extreme weather events that have occurred in several parts of the country.”
There is concern, however, with this re-introduction of the State of Disaster by the National Government, that funds earmarked for rebuilding flood-devastated regions will be looted in a similar fashion to the Covid-19 relief funds.
Chief Whip of the Official Opposition, Natasha Mazzone MP, issued a statement in which she says she will be tabling a draft resolution in the National Assembly to establish an ad hoc committee to oversee all aspects of the National State of Disaster to respond to floods in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.
In the statement, the DA notes the president’s request for a “joint sitting of parliament to conduct oversight over the work required to provide relief and rebuild in the affected provinces”, and states that however, this once-off sitting is simply not enough.
“Over the last two years South Africans have received updates from the executive only when a Minister has chosen to arrange a press conference. There is an urgent need for consistent oversight to be conducted by Parliament over a declared state of disaster on behalf of the public” says Ms Mazzone.
The Disaster Management Act does not provide for parliamentary oversight, which allows the executive to use the Act to bypass Parliament and govern through regulations.
Ms Mazzone stated “the government already abused this Act during the Covid 19 pandemic, when Parliament and its constitutionally mandated role of exercising oversight over the executive was all but forgotten.”
She added that the DA will not allow this situation to repeat itself, and that the proposed ad hoc committee must meet daily throughout the state of disaster given the urgency of this situation.
The proposed committee would have extensive powers to exercise oversight over all activities related to the State of Disaster. Some of these powers will include:
- To summon any person before it to give evidence on oath or affirmation, or to produce documents;
- To conduct public hearings; and
- To receive petitions, representations, or submissions from interested persons or institutions.
“While the ANC has previously rejected proposals to amend the Disaster Management Act, the party clearly plans to use the Disaster Management Act on an increasingly regular basis, with the potential to govern through the Act in perpetuity. As a result, there is a need to limit the government’s power to perpetually extend a state of disaster” says Ms Mazzone.
“The DA will therefore be moving ahead with our PMB to amend Section 27 of the Disaster Management Act which will require express approval from Parliament for any extensions to a state of disaster beyond an initial 21-day period. We cannot allow the executive branch of government to continue extending a declared state of disaster into perpetuity without express approval from Parliament.”
“Parliament’s role of exercising oversight over the executive branch of government was sidelined throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. This status quo cannot be allowed to continue. The DA will be taking firm action to restore Parliament’s central oversight role within government” added Ms Mazzone.