The national Covid-19 lockdown has highlighted significant flaws in the current Disaster Management Act, in particular the unrestricted power that it confers on the government, the abuse of power that stems from it and the lack of parliamentary accountability and oversight.
The FF Plus is of the opinion that any legislation in a constitutional democracy that has such a drastic impact on the lives and human rights of citizens, as was the case recently under the Disaster Management Act, must be subject to legal accountability and oversight.
Thus, the leader of the FF Plus, Dr Pieter Groenewald, has tabled a private member's bill to ensure parliamentary oversight and accountability concerning decisions made in terms of the Disaster Management Act.
The bill will be published in the Government Gazette on Friday (23 October 2020). (The full bill is attached herewith.)
The bill aims to ensure that only Parliament's National Assembly may determine and extend the duration of a state of disaster in the case of a national state of disaster. Any such decisions must also be preceded by a public debate on the matter.
Furthermore, the bill proposes that all regulations relating to the state of disaster must be tabled in the National Assembly for approval and / or amendments following a public debate.
In terms of the current Disaster Management Act, the government can unilaterally decide to extend the duration of the state of disaster indefinitely on a month-to-month basis.
The bill makes provision for the relevant minister to initially announce a lockdown period of only 21 days; the minister will also have the power to lift the restrictions before the time has lapsed.
The bill determines that the lockdown period may be extended by the National Assembly for periods of three months. The first extension will simply require a majority vote (50% plus) after which a majority vote of 60% or more will be required for subsequent extensions.
As things stand, all regulations are issued during a state of disaster by the Minister of Cooperative Governance (in this case, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) without any form of parliamentary approval.
During the Covid-19 state of disaster, the Minister unilaterally issued a series of regulations that had a drastic, negative impact on the country's economy and the life of every single South African citizen.
Millions of job opportunities were lost, businesses were destroyed and thousands of people were driven to the verge of bankruptcy. Some of the regulations even paved the way for widespread corruption and the theft of money that was earmarked for emergency relief.
Other regulations were ambiguous, contradictory, irrational and impractical.
The bill affords the National Assembly the power to adopt or reject regulations. The same kind of oversight will also be applicable in the case of provincial and municipal states of disaster.
The FF Plus is convinced that the proposed changes are a significant improvement on the existing system, that it will significantly restrict the ruling party's current unbridled powers and that it will benefit all South Africans, particularly in the areas where the ANC is in power.
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