Election of Chairperson and Committee business

Adhoc Committee on Covid-19 (WCPP)

17 April 2020
Chairperson: Ms M Wenger (DA)
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Meeting Summary

Livestream link to meeting: https://www.wcpp.gov.za/node/7844

COVID-19: Regulations and Guidelines

Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002

The Secretary to the WCPP convened the first Ad-Hoc Committee on COVID-19 meeting, which was also the first official meeting of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament conducted on a virtual platform. It would hold regular meetings in order to fulfil its mandate of performing oversight over the work of the provincial executive authority as it responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the work of any provincial department, provincial organ of state or provincial entity involved in activities dealing with the pandemic.

The election of a Chairperson was a point of dispute between the majority DA and opposition Members, who proposed that in the interest of credibility, transparency and effective oversight, this role should be performed by a Member of an opposition party. They argued that the DA could not be expected to be the judge at their own trial. However, the DA responded that it was presumptuous to assume that whoever was Chairperson would automatically be biased and not impartial.

In the subsequent election process, Ms M Wenger (DA) was elected Chairperson defeating Mr B Herron (GOOD) by eight votes to six.

The Committee then formulated its priority themes which would direct its approach to addressing the Covid-19 pandemic in the Western Cape. Members agreed that food security was a major issue. People were looting shops, robbing people and resorting to various forms of other crimes as a result of being hungry. In order to keep people informed, there was a need to communicate with those who were not linked to channels like the South African Social Security Agency or the Unemployment Insurance Fund, as well as communities in rural areas which were the most vulnerable.

Meetings would be scheduled in the coming week to focus on food security and health issues, and the Premier would be invited to provide an overview of the situation throughout the province.

Meeting report

Election of Chairperson

Mr Romeo Adams, Secretary to the WCPP, convened the first meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on COVID19, which was determined by the Speaker in terms of WCPP Standing Rule 119 (1) (b). The establishment of the Committee was announced in the ATC 23 of 2020 together with the membership of the Committee dated, Thursday 16 April 2020. There are 15 Members – DA: 8, ANC: 3, EFF: 1 and 3 Members jointly for the small parties (FF+, GOOD, ACDP). Al Jama-ah elected not to participate. The powers of the Ad Hoc Committee are derived from the Standing Rules. The Committee would meet virtually until otherwise advised. The Committee would report back on its activities and findings often.

The agenda of the meeting would begin with election of the Chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee. This in line with Rule 95 of the Standing Rules.

Mr C Dugmore (ANC) thought that as part of the purpose of the Ad Hoc Committee is to play an oversight role, one of the informing principles is of impartiality and accountability. Given that the Ad Hoc Committee would have oversight functions of the Premier, MECs and provincial government, there is precedent in Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) for the Chairperson to be a Member of one of the opposition parties. He wished to test this view with the other Members.

Mr B Herron (GOOD) thought the proposal from Mr Dugmore should be considered. He asked that the DA, as the majority on the Committee, consider supporting the proposal. It is important that oversight of the Executive, especially in this crisis, has the appearance and functioning of impartiality. He supported Mr Dugmore’s proposal and asked that the DA consider it.

Ms M Wenger (DA) said that Members should participate in the nomination of a Member as the Chairperson as per the Rules.

Mr F Christians (ACDP) believed that in order to provide proper oversight, accountability and bring credibility to the Committee, it would be best and most gracious of the Democratic Alliance (DA) to allow an opposition Member to chair the Committee. The Chief Whip of the DA was present for the meeting and should honestly consider the benefit it would bring to have an opposition party chairing – to ensure that oversight, credibility and transparency was executed properly over the Committee and over the Executive at the provincial government level. He emphasised that political party lines should play no role when it came to the execution of oversight, accountability and transparency, but rather that the Committee should work in unison with one another.

The Secretary said that currently, there were two proposals -- one from the ANC and the other from the DA. The ANC proposed that there be a discussion on the chairpersonship of the Committee, while the DA proposed that the Committee continue with the nomination process. There were two other parties that supported and at least one that did not support the proposal by the ANC.  A way forward needed to be decided on, as no unanimous decision had been reached.

Mr P Marais (FF+) believed that the time had come for bipartisan or tri-partisan partnerships, and it was not the time for a party to be showing its muscle just because it was the majority. The DA could not be expected to be the judge at their own trial and should allow an opposition party Member to be given the chairpersonship to show that there was accountability and transparency within the party. It was the time for the DA to agree that having the chairpersonship would be contrary to the task at hand.

He supported the proposal by Mr Dugmore.

Mr D America (DA) said it was presumptuous of the opposition party to assume that whoever held the Chairpersonship from the majority party would be biased and not impartial. He suggested that the opposition party nominate the person they wanted as the Chairperson and a democratic vote could be taken, as the constant back and forth led to valuable time being wasted.

The Secretary said that the opposition proposed that the Committee engage on the chairpersonship. He could see no reason why the Committee could not continue with the nominations, given that each party would have an opportunity to nominate a Member who they thought would be suitable as Chairperson of the Committee. He proceeded to call for nominations.

Mr Dugmore nominated Mr B Herron (GOOD).

Mr Marais seconded the proposal for Mr Herron.

Mr D Mitchell (DA) nominated Ms M Wenger (DA).

Ms W Philander (DA) seconded the nomination of Ms Wenger.

Mr Dugmore requested an opportunity to motivate as to why he nominated Mr Herron.

Mr Mitchell said that it was not necessary for Mr Dugmore to motivate, as the voting process had already started and nominations had been put forward. He did not believe that any debate should be further allowed, and requested that the voting process be continued.

Mr Dugmore responded that he did not see any reason why he could not be allowed to motivate his nomination. He said it was not a debate, but a motivation – there was a difference, and it was not the same principle involved. He wanted his proposal to motivate to be put to a seconder.

The Secretary explained that the nomination had already been made, so a motivation was not needed.

Ms Wenger said that the request made by Mr Dugmore was not procedural, according to the Standing Rules. She requested advice on whether or not the request by Mr Dugmore was procedural, as no other committee had ever motivated its nominations for Chairperson. She sought swift action so that the Committee could proceed with its work.

Mr Marais said that Ms Wenger changed the rules of Committee whenever it suited her.

Ms Wenger interrupted on a point of order.

After some noisy argumentation, Ms Wenger said that the Committee needed to stick to the business at hand, which was appointing a Chairperson for the Committee. Until the Chairperson was elected, the Committee could not proceed with its work, and she therefore pleaded that they facilitate the speedy resolution of the election of the Chairperson. No support had been given for the proposal by Mr Dugmore. There had never been discussions or motivations for the nominations of any Chairpersons for a committee.

Mr Christians said that he did not see anything wrong with listening to Mr Dugmore’s motivation. While the DA had the numbers, Members needed to be tolerant instead of pushing their own agenda, as the DA was clearly doing. He supported the proposal to listen to the motivation by Mr Dugmore.

The Secretary said that he had been advised that for the meeting, he did not have the authority, as Secretary, to allow for debates. The Committee therefore needed to proceed with the task at hand.

The Secretary stated that the nominations would be put to a vote.

The Secretary asked if there was any support for Mr Herron.

Mr Dugmore said that he would like to vote for Mr Herron, as he would add integrity to the Committee as Chairperson.

Mr D Smith (ANC), stood in for Ms R Windvogel (ANC), and supported the nomination.

Mr K Sayed (ANC) stood in for Ms P Lekker (ANC) and supported the nomination.

Mr Herron, Mr Christians and Mr Marais also supported the nomination of Mr Herron.

The Secretary asked if there was any support for Ms Wenger.

Mr Mitchell, Ms D Baartman, Mr America, Mr A van der Westhuizen, Mr G Bosman, Mr R Allen, Ms M Wenger, Chief Whip, and Mr R Mackenzie, standing in for Ms W Philander, (all DA Members), supported the nomination of Ms Wenger.

Mr Dugmore wanted clarity as to why Mr Mackenzie had voted on behalf of Ms Philander, when she was clearly in the virtual meeting, as she had seconded the nomination of Ms Wenger earlier.

The Secretary called on Ms Philander to ask if she was still online and present in the meeting. He informed the Members that Ms Philander had not responded.

Mr Mackenzie said that Ms Philander had said that she was not present in the meeting, and as such he became a full Member on her behalf and his vote counted.

Ms Allen clarified that Ms Philander had experienced technical difficulties.

The Secretary explained that the voting had closed for the nominations, and the Procedural Officer, Ms Zaheedah Adams, would give the tally.

Ms Adams announced that Mr Herron had received six votes in favour, and Ms Wenger had received eight votes in favour.

The Secretary, in terms of WCPP Standing Rule 85, declared Ms Wenger the Chairperson of the Committee. He handed over to Ms Wenger to address the Committee as the Chairperson.

Establishment of themes for Committee action

The Chairperson said that the Committee should first agree on a certain number of themes that could be dealt with, and then submit issues under the theme’s banners. Secondly, the date for next meeting needed to be decided. Lastly, the frequency of the meetings needed to be decided.

Mr Dugmore sought clarification on what the best way to communicate would be while in the virtual meeting.

Ms Wenger replied that in order to be recognised, Members needed to state their names.

Mr Dugmore said that he did not object to the items, but proposed that they immediately discuss the urgent issue regarding food security and the delivery of food parcels. He requested that Ms Philander join the meeting to discuss the issue, if possible.

The Chairperson said there were a number of matters that were urgent, and she therefore wanted the Committee to first agree on the themes, and then discuss the way forward.

Mr Sayed agreed with the Chairperson, but said that it was important to ensure that the media and public could witness the discussions that took place within the online Committee meetings.

The Chairperson agreed that the meeting be broadcast for public and media viewing.

Ms Baartman proposed a theme of economic recovery and support.

The Chairperson said that the themes proposed were copied into the chat bar. They were broad themes that needed to be discussed further.

  1. Health
  2. Policing, security and police brutality
  3. Food security
  4. Protection of the vulnerable
  5. Disaster management and local government oversight
  6. Economic recovery and support
  7. Transport
  8. Schooling and education
  9. Human settlements
  10. Citizen surveillance

Mr Herron said that he did not have a problem with the themes, but he was not sure where the issue involving informal food trading would fit in. He wanted to know whether or not it was an issue that could fall under protection of the vulnerable, or if economic recovery and support could be extended to include livelihood.

The Chairperson said that theme number six would be changed to “economic support and livelihood”.

Mr Dugmore said that a major concern was the fact that the Premier of the Western Cape, unlike the President, had never met once with any of the political parties, so the whole issue surrounding intergovernmental relations was a concern. Food security and gender-based violence remained a big concern as well.

The Chairperson said that domestic violence could fall under “protection of the vulnerable.”

Mr Christians raised the issue of the Strandfontein site, as access into the area had been denied. He had wanted to go there, but not before discussing it with the Committee. The situation there was not good, and this needed to be factored in.

The Chairperson said it would be fair to include the Strandfontein matter under the theme of the “protection of the vulnerable.”

Mr Christians agreed that it be put under “protection of the vulnerable.” He asserted that the media portrayed different perspectives around the issue. They had a counselor who counseled people, and they had a lot of bad things to say regarding the situation. People were being blocked and refused entry. It was an urgent matter waiting to explode.

The Chairperson said the Committee first needed to agree to the broad themes. Each Member of the Committee would be invited to submit proposals for the issues that fell under each of the themes to be tabled to the Committee.

Ms N Nkondlo (ANC) said that finance and budgets were a big issue that needed to be addressed, as the lockdown increased pressure on public resources. The current situation posed serious implications to the province’s finance and budget, so they needed to be included and discussed appropriately.

The Chairperson assured Ms Nkondlo that these issues had been added.

Mr Mackenzie suggested that a WhatsApp group be created, as some Members could not view the themes in the “webchat.”

The Chairperson said that the Procedural Officer would circulate the 12 themes so that all Members would have them, and could use this as their framework in developing the issues under each of those 12 themes.

Mr Marais said that people who were not on the radar needed to be seen to as well. Those who were not linked to the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) or the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) had to be contacted, as well as those in the most rural areas, as they were the ones who suffered immensely from poverty and hardship.

The Chairperson said that the issue raised by Mr Marais could go under “food security” or “protection of the vulnerable.”

Mr Mackenzie said that a possible 13th theme could be “community participation in the fight against the pandemic’, as various organisations and civil society members and communities at large were eager to lend a helping hand wherever they could.

The Chairperson said that it could fall under “public participation.”

Mr Mackenzie suggested that it be called “public participation.”

Mr Christians said that a major issue was food security. People were looting shops, robbing people and resorting to various forms of other crimes as a result of being hungry. Those issues fell under social services, but when people made use of those lines of communication, there were such barriers and options to press constantly, that by the time -- or even before -- they reached the call centre, their airtime had diminished. This was an issue that needed to be sorted out immediately, as hunger was not something that could just wait until the next meeting. Information technology (IT) services and social services needed to be brought in to help with the situation, to create efficiency.

The Chairperson said that the Premier and the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Health, and various stakeholders, would be contacted to help with the situation and see where possible solutions could be implemented quickly and efficiently.

Mr Mitchell supported the proposal to involve the Premier and MEC for Health in the province. It was a health crisis, and everything stemmed from the pandemic. Input from the Premier and other stakeholders would be beneficial, and from there they could decide on the way forward.

Mr America said that while there were many urgent issues that needed to be addressed, the Premier would be able to provide a bird’s eye view of the situation in the province.

Mr Herron said that briefings were being given on a daily basis through the various communication channels. The crisis also involved social development, and therefore this needed to be covered, and not just be given a briefing.

The Chairperson said that the briefing would provide a situational analysis covering the concerns raised by Mr Herron.

Ms Philander said she concurred with Mr Mitchell, as that would be the perfect way to establish the position as it currently stood. Everyone was aware of the dire need of the communities, and she did not wish take anything away from that, but input by the Premier would provide a proper perspective of the situation, and the timeline that the Chairperson suggested seemed sufficient in that regard.

Mr Marais emphasised that a lot had been said about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but South Africa was still idling between the second and third phases. When people called call centres, they would be provided with option after option before reaching the call centre and by that time, their airtime was up. Similarly, the food parcels and packages given to people took nothing into account when it came to their dietary requirements, and so forth. People needed to be given the option to buy what they needed, and not what others thought they needed. He wanted to know why vouchers could not be used in order for people to buy what they felt they needed. By doing this, one could avoid the crimes that took place. He had been receiving calls that women did not even have nappies for their babies, which was disgusting and ridiculous. He reiterated that IT needed to get involved to simplify the call centre options, for efficiency to occur.

Mr Bosman wanted to know whether the Committee was open to involving SASSA, as he felt they had a role to play when it came to the situation regarding people’s social welfare and livelihoods.

Mr Dugmore said that he had earlier noticed the presence of a representative of the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG), which monitored the proceedings of committees. He wanted to know if they were monitoring the current meeting, and if the recordings would be made available to Members and the media, to share with the public regarding the discussions and work being done by the Committee.

Ms Baartman agreed with Mr Bosman, not only regarding SASSA, but also on the other national and provincial entities involved with various issues, and suggested that an open mind should be kept regarding their joining the Committee. She proposed that going forward, Members should email their specific issues to the Chairperson or the Procedural Officer so that they could be compiled in order to avoid every second person raising the same issue when it had already been raised by someone else. This way, productivity would increase. She emphasised that the rural areas should not be left behind by the Committee, as focus needed to be given to both rural and urban areas.

Mr Sayed said that while Members were jumping ahead to the burning issues, they first needed to agree on the themes and approaches. He proposed that they start off considering the themes that were being listed, as this opened up the opportunity for each meeting going forward to receive a presentation by a specific MEC and department. For instance, the MEC for Social Development could be called, as well as SASSA, when the need arose. The National Department should be called in to speak on the issues and engage around them in order to establish the relationship with the provincial government on how to approach things.  He proposed that when departments were called to present, that presentations should be submitted a few days prior to the meeting, to allow Members to adequately interrogate them and formulate questions. This would allow meetings to stay focused and function in the same way that they did within the legislature.

Mr Mackenzie stated that he supported Mr Sayed’s proposal to meet one MEC at a time, as meeting four or five MEC’s at one meeting would take forever and Members would not get the desired outcome they were hoping for. He said that in the current climate, there was pressure to crack down in meetings and stick to the very important questions during the presentations, while keeping a focus on time constraints. When the Premier, or the Director-General of the province, was called in, the agenda should not be jam-packed.

Mr Herron said he appreciated all the comments, but if the next meeting was going to have a briefing by the Premier, then he would like to propose that the MECs for Social Development and Health were present, so that they could to get a briefing on the testing and all the other relevant issues that were important. The Committee needed a view across the province regarding the health conditions, the status of testing and plans for future testing, including the results of the containment and other pressing issues, which he considered fell under humanitarian issues. Social Development needed to be first before Health, as the food security and relief issue was one that could not be ignored. The MEC needed to account as to who was responsible for distributing food relief, and how it was being distributed between the three spheres of government.

Mr Marais asked whether the Budget Committee had come up with alternatives. He was posing the question in order to find out if they were going to present to the Committee on the available funds and what could be spent, how it could be spent, and where it was needed the most.

Ms Nkondlo said she generally supported what had been said by the Members. She wanted a timeline as to when the theme submissions needed to be completed in order to prepare for when the Premier would be called to present to the Committee. Those submissions also needed to give the Premier an indication of the answers the Committee was looking for, so they had to precede the meeting to allow for proper answers. She added that an economic response was something which needed to be prioritised in regard to informal traders, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and other types of essential trading activities.

Mr America commented that all the Members were in different locations because of the lockdown, and that they should not forget that the ultimate goal of the country and the province was for the people to get of the current situation that they found themselves in. Termination of the lockdown would largely depend upon the pace of the Covid-19 transmission and the Health Department’s perspective on how the community had spent their time during the lockdown. During this particular phase, people were food insecure, which led to different kinds of behaviour and expression. He argued that frequent meetings of the Committee would be necessary, and proposed that the Committee met every second or third day. He therefore proposed that the Committee should convene two meetings in the next week to consider the proposal to bring the MEC for Social Security, or the Minister of Social Development, to a do a presentation on whatever issues the Committee had questions about.

Mr Christians said that when looking at the frequency of meetings, a couple of days would not make a big difference, getting from one MEC to another.

The Chairperson alerted the Committee that the meeting needed to be paused for five minutes, as IT needed to change the drive which had been recording the proceedings.

She said there were a lot of important and urgent issues that the Committee needed to deal with, as raised by the various Members of the Committee. Those issues, however, needed to be done in an organised manner so that the Committee could work as thoroughly as possible. Members were asked to submit their submission by the coming Monday in order to have them included in the presentation by the Premier and Director-General during that same week. Any specific items that needed to be addressed, in addition to the situation report, were needed by Monday in order to have them compiled and drafted into a proposal.

The Chairperson said she would check on the times and confirm with the Committee on Wednesday regarding the briefing by the Premier and the Director-General, and then the Health Department, as the pandemic was a health crisis. The Committee would look at food security first, which would take place next Friday, and all social development issues that were raised could be dealt with at that meeting. Once all the submissions had been made, a draft programme of action would be drawn up for the Committee. This would then be discussed and confirmed at Wednesday’s meeting, for Friday and beyond.

Mr Dugmore said he supported the proposal about Monday, but while the Premier, the Director General and the MEC for Health would be called for presentations, he appealed to the Committee that the critical issues regarding social development, such as food security, should be dealt with as well. He stressed the need to have the food component of social development put on to the Wednesday meeting agenda.

The Chairperson said it would not be feasible to include the food component at the Wednesday meeting, but proposed two meetings for Wednesday, instead of Friday. However, this was dependent on the availability of the delegation.

Mr Dugmore said that the proposal was more than fair, and thanked the Chairperson.

The Chairperson said that it was agreed that Members would submit all the items of issues for the presentation and the questions that they wanted feedback on in the situational report, as well as the food security theme, by 12h00 on Monday. All other theme items would need to be sent to the Committee by close of business on Monday, so that the Procedural Officer and the Chairperson could compile the items and table them to the Committee on Wednesday for discussion.

She explained that members of the Parliamentary Monitoring Group were online, and had been since the beginning of the meeting and would receive all the relevant information from the Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP) in order to comprehensively cover the meeting. The two meetings for Wednesday next week would be put on to the agenda for the programming authority.

Ms Baartman said the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) had invited the WCPP Budget Committee to a virtual meeting on 22 April regarding the division of revenue. She appealed to the Chairperson that some of the Committee Members would also like to attend this NCOP meeting.

The Chairperson said that the two meetings created a programming issue. However, the Committee could deal with the second item either on Thursday morning before the sitting, or on Friday, as a good three hours would be needed to deal with the food security issue.

Ms Baartman explained that she was not sure whether the parties needed to caucus on Thursday morning, and therefore proposed that it would be best to schedule the second part of the meeting for Friday morning.

The Chairperson said that it would then be scheduled for Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning. The Wednesday meeting would be for the Premier, the Director-General and the Health Department, while Friday would be for food security.

Mr Mitchell requested that a Western Cape representative from SASSA be called to the Committee, as this would provide a platform to table all the proposals that fell under their domain.

Mr Sayed said it should be ensured that going forward, including the next meeting, that there was media presence. The meeting should be open and broadcast on the relevant communication channels.

Mr Dugmore appealed to all Members to take care of themselves and their families during the pandemic period.

The Chairperson thanked the Committee for their cooperation and participation regarding all the COVID-19 issues that needed to be dealt with.

The meeting was adjourned.


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