Minister on Government’s response to impact of COVID-19 on the economy: meeting postponed

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Trade, Industry and Competition

28 April 2020
Chairperson: Mr D Nkosi (ANC), Mr M Rayi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Joint Meeting: PC on DTI and SC on DTI, Small Business ,Tourism,Labour, 29 April 2020
Audio: Minister on Government’s response to potential negative impact of COVID-19 on economy & measures to mitigate against this

COVID-19: Regulations and Guidelines
Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002

A joint committee on trade and industry had expected to be briefed by the Minister of Trade and Industry on government’s response to the potential negative impact of the coronavirus on the economy and the measures considered to mitigate against it. However, the Minister was unable to attend. The committee discussed the merits of the Minister’s letter of apology. ANC members were inclined to accept the letter in light of the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus pandemic, while members of the opposition were concerned that parliament was being prevented from conducting oversight over the executive regarding the easing of lock-down regulations. DA members in particular strongly rejected the Minister’s apology, going so far as to suggest that the Minister was deliberately avoiding engagement with parliament.

The meeting was postponed by two days to 1 May 2020 at 9am.


Meeting report

Co-Chairperson Nkosi noted that this was the first meeting of the portfolio and select committees on trade and industry since the declaration of the state of disaster. The committees appreciated the government’s decisive and responsible leadership in the fight against COVID-19, which had been recognised globally. He cautioned against complacency, and emphasised calls from government for citizens to leave their homes only when necessary, practice good hygiene and social distancing. Members of parliament needed to continue to conduct oversight of the executive and represent the people during the state of disaster.

The purpose of the meeting was to engage the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Ebrahim Patel, to understand the short-term measures that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) had put in place to curb the spread of the virus, and discuss medium- and long-term measures to mitigate the economic impact of the virus and support economic recovery. There were many other important matters that needed to be addressed, such as measures to support manufacturing, businesses and consumers, the impact of the curfew on businesses, measures to curb unfair pricing, the availability of protective equipment to businesses, the regulation of e-commerce, and the lifting of the ban on the trade of tobacco and alcohol. However, this would not be the place to discuss them. The committee would be guided by the Minister. The same applied to cross-cutting issues, such as the effects of COVID-19 on tourism and small businesses.

Co-Chairperson Nkosi proposed that only members of the two committees be allowed to ask questions verbally. Other members of parliament should use the text chat function or email. He asked Co-Chairperson Rayi to take the committee through the communication from the DTI that had been received earlier that day.

Co-Chairperson Rayi explained that, following the President’s Thursday 23 April announcement on the easing of state of disaster lock-down measures, Ministers had faced the urgent task of gazetting the new regulations in time to be implemented on Friday 1 May. Minister Patel had therefore written to the joint committee asking for the meeting to be postponed until Friday 1 May.

Co-Chairperson Nkosi asked members of the joint committee for comments, questions and, in particular, suggestions for the way forward.

Mr D Macpherson (DA) was very disappointed and rejected Minister Patel’s letter. The meeting had already been postponed at the Minister’s request. It was a disgraceful dereliction of his responsibility to account to parliament. Minister Patel had not responded to communications. If the Minister did not appear before the committee in advance of the publications of the new regulations, there would have been no parliamentary oversight on them. He was willing to wait until midnight for the Minister to appear before the joint committee if necessary.

Mr J Londt (DA, Western Cape) said that the select committee had taken a resolution not to allow Ministers to disrespect parliament by not attending meetings. He said that Co-Chairperson Rayi should not have accepted the Minister’s request. He agreed with Mr Macpherson that the regulations needed to be discussed before they were released.

Co-Chairperson Rayi replied that this resolution had been taken with reference to the presentation of annual performance plans and annual reports. The current situation was unprecedented.

Ms Y Yako (EFF) said that the committee had given Minister Patel a long rope, but it seemed like he was taking advantage of this. The DTI was the backbone of business in South Africa. There needed to be weekly meetings until the economy stabilised. The Minister needed to come to the committee and break down the Department’s plans for each province. The economy was not being prioritised enough.

Mr M Cuthbert (DA) was also willing to wait for the Minister to appear before the committee. He was abrogating his responsibility not only to the committee but also to the public, who wanted clarity on the regulations. The committee was not being respected. He proposed summoning the Minister to the meeting and sending a strongly worded letter.

Ms J Hermans (ANC) said that the Minister’s rejection of the committee’s invitation had not been frivolous. The Minister’s reasons were of national importance, and the Minister had taken the committee into his confidence on this. The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) had consulted broadly in preparing the regulations, and its work should be respected. She supported the Minister’s proposal of a meeting on 1 May.


Ms P Mantashe (ANC) was disappointed at Minister Patel’s absence but noted that he had offered an alternative date to accommodate the committee. He should not be attacked, and should be given the opportunity to finalise the regulations.

Mr T Brauteseth (DA, Kwazulu-Natal) said that avoiding the meeting was an extremely cynical move by Minister Patel. There would be a national broadcast at 6pm that day on the new regulations, and the Minister was therefore making a mockery of the parliamentary consultative process. A meeting on 1 May would be too late, as the committee needed to make inputs into the regulations. He reminded members that they represented all South Africans, and the Minister’s non-attendance was therefore an insult to all South Africans. He did not think there was any longer a point in meeting with the Minister but expressed his willingness to do so.

Mr W Thring (ACDP) was very concerned at Minister Patel’s absence. He had expected the committee would see the Minister’s plans to rescue the economy, which was already teetering on the brink. Businesses and ordinary people were approaching their representatives, not knowing what to do. The meeting was crucial and his last-minute cancellation was unacceptable, but since it concerned the announcement that the Minister was going to make later in the day, the meeting was now moot. A new meeting should be set up for later than night or the next day.

Mr F Mulder (FF+) was also disappointed at the Minister’s absence. He recognised that the Minister needed to attend NCCC meetings and there seemed to be a programming problem. However, after 6pm, the committee would not be able to make a meaningful contribution. This would create a public perception that parliament was not doing its job. The FF+ recognised that a difficult balance needed to be struck between protecting peoples’ health and protecting the economy, but it disagreed on certain specific things.

Ms S Boshoff (DA, Mpumalanga) wondered why Ms Hermans was supporting Minister Patel. She disputed that the Minister had taken the committee into his confidence. The committee deserved the same respect it gave him. The economy was on the brink of collapse and they had received 1000s of calls from members of the public, and now they would have nothing to tell them. The Ministry was blocking parliamentary oversight and it seemed like it had been the plan all along. The Minister’s letter should not be accepted and he should be summoned before 6pm.

Mr M Dangor (ANC, Gauteng) observed that the NCCC needed to be able to meet at short notice, and the committee should be understanding. The committee should not play party politics in public. Minister Patel should be supported and his letter should be accepted. The country needed to move forward in unison.

Ms R Moatshe (ANC) said that the Minister’s apology should be accepted and supported the suggestion to postpone the meeting.

Mr E Landsman (ANC, North West) said that the schedule of the NCCC should inform the committee’s plans to postpone the meeting. He accepted Minister Patel’s apology.

Ms N Motaung (ANC) accepted Minister Patel’s apology and suggestion of a new time for the meeting.

Mr M Mmoeimang (ANC. Northern Cape) said that the committee needed to be understanding of the extraordinary circumstances in which government was operating. He asked the chairpersons not to call a meeting just to discuss an apology in future. He added that the Minister should be allowed to address the committee on Friday 1 May.

Co-Chairperson Rayi said that the meeting had not been called to discuss or allow input on the new regulations. It was a briefing by the Minister on the broad agenda, not the specific measures. Furthermore, if the Minister attended the joint committee meeting instead of the NCCC meeting, there would be no regulations to discuss. He did not think that the regulations themselves were subject to parliamentary endorsement. Parliament only had oversight over their implementation. He did not think a two-day postponement was a problem.

Mr Brauteseth said that Co-Chairperson Rayi was being disingenuous. The meeting was supposed to have discussed specific measures.

Mr S Mbuyane (ANC) acknowledged the Minister’s letter and suggested that the meeting be brought to a close.

Co-Chairperson Nkosi predicted that the programming of meetings with the executive would face ongoing challenges. Nevertheless, regular meetings would be necessary. He apologised for the waste of committee members’ time and he proposed a meeting on 1 May from 9am to 11am.

Ms Hermans supported this proposal.

Mr Macpherson reiterated that the DA rejected the Minister’s letter entirely and was not satisfied with holding a meeting on 1 May.

Mr Brauteseth agreed.

Ms Mantashe said that the matter should not be politicised. She supported Co-Chairperson Nkosi’s proposal.

Ms Yako reiterated her concerns about the economy and her call for weekly meetings. She rejected the Minister’s letter, and said that the meeting should have been cancelled.

Mr Thring reiterated his disappointment at the Minister’s non-attendance. The meeting had been a waste of taxpayers’ money. The economy was the most important thing at the moment, as the consequences of the virus would pale in comparison to the consequences of unemployment and starvation if the economy was not managed correctly. Communication among departments needed to be improved.

The meeting was adjourned.


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