The Committee was briefed in a virtual meeting by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation on measures implemented by the South African government to combat COVID-19 during the pre-disaster and disaster phases, and the constant updating of the medium term strategic framework for the 2019-2024 period.
The briefing provided insight into the government’s actions to reduce the pandemic’s lethal effects. It also highlighted the successes and obstacles encountered while dealing with the disaster, and the provision of steps to monitor citizens' perceptions of policy decisions. Policy pronouncements relevant to COVID-19, and lessons learned by government in dealing with the pandemic, had been documented for future reference.
Tracing the history of the government’s response, the Department said COVID-19 had adversely affected the nation's 'normal' life, including economic activities, and access to education and health services. Measures taken by the government had included forming the National COVID-19 Command Council (NCCC), chaired by the President and consisting of ministers and scientific community experts, to provide stewardship to implement, track and report on its response strategy. Visible leadership had been provided to the nation. The government had communicated the country’s response to the global pandemic and told the nation regularly of all decisions taken by the NCCC to flatten the Covid-19 curve, and had constantly tweaked its risk-adjusted strategy.
Some of the lessons learned were that close collaboration between the national, provincial and local levels of government had helped to deal with the situation. However, greed and corruption had had a detrimental impact on attempts to relieve the suffering of disadvantaged and deprived communities, and the suspected transfer of food packages from deserving households to those loyal to certain local leaders had exacerbated food insecurity during the Covid-19 period.
The medium term strategic framework was a constantly evolving document, whose aim was to incorporate all the main initiatives into a results-based system. The Department would help with collaboration and ensure the tracking of critical initiatives and achievements to facilitate implementation and transparency.
Members expressed dissatisfaction that the figures presented to them dated back to April, as there had been significant developments involving the pandemic and other matters since then. The figures therefore had presented a skewed picture which could lead to misleading conclusions about the government’s performance. They asked what had informed the President’s decision to establish an inter-ministerial committee that looked at questionable ethical issues involving COVID-19 related tenders, when the country had law enforcement agencies tasked with the fight against corruption. Why was there a duplication of their functions? They also wanted to know how far the government had gone with its post-COVID recovery plans, and how they would be incorporated into the MTSF.
The acting Chairperson said the country was now at level two of the lockdown, but not out of the woods yet. The Committee was unhappy with the non-submission of performance agreements which had been due since March. The Department was also told to ensure that presentations were received by Members five days before the scheduled meeting day.
Deputy Minister’s overview
Ms Thembi Siweya, DPME Deputy Minister in the Presidency, acknowledged the Chairperson’s opening comments, and promised to comply with the calendar provided and to correct the mistakes made by the Department, and would ensure that presentations reached the Members five days ahead of meetings in future.
The report on COVID-19 covered the period from April to June, and would serve as a baseline for future pandemics. In the report, the activities of government since the lockdown till now would be enunciated. Details of measures introduced by the government to curb the virus and educate the public would be highlighted. The virus relief funds put in place by various departments were stressed as well. The medium term strategic framework (MTSF) review road map were projections made when the pandemic started in April, but since the pandemic was still much with us, the call for a review had become necessary. This review road map would still be tabled in Parliament for adoption.
The Department was bringing the Committee up to speed with this document on what this review entailed. Another document under review was the national development plan (NDP) because of the MTSF review. The COVID recovery plan also had to find expression in the NDP document. The Department was committed to working with this Committee through this entire process.
Mr Robert Nkuna, Director-General (DG): DPME, said that even though he was the newest member of the administrative team, he took responsibility and committed to ensure that Parliament got all the documentation it needed to carry out its oversight functions.
Government measures to combat Covid-19
Mr Blake Mosley-Lefatola, Deputy Director General (DDG): Public Sector Monitoring and Capacity Development, DPME, said that the Covid-19 pandemic had struck South Africa as it was positioning itself to address its multiple social and economic challenges. As had been the case globally, Covid-19 had massively disrupted the work of the South African government and its social partners, as articulated in the State of the Nation Address (SONA). It had impacted adversely on the ‘normal’ life of the nation, including economic activities, access to education and health services. It was still an unfolding, evolving phenomenon. Its changing character and associated implications for the health system, the economy and social systems, needed to be monitored and studied carefully. The DPME had plans to continue studying this phenomenon and produce reports to inform strategic decisions on the management of the epidemic. A country report on Covid-19 would consolidate the lessons.
The government’s response was anchored on seven pillars:
- Public health;
- Social relief, food security and basic services;
- Fostering national unity;
- Support to small businesses, the informal sector and workers;
- Business support, stimulus and rescue;
- Communication and Information; and
This report reflected on the measures, success and challenges and emerging lessons with respect to the above dimensions.
Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General: World Health Organisation (WHO), had said at a media briefing on April 27 that the South African government had received close to 70 000 emails from concerned citizens. The WHO had said the South African government was on the right track in its battle against coronavirus by simply listening to the people. It had introduced a lockdown early to contain the spread of the virus.
South African government’s response
The South African government had established a National Covid-19 Command Council (NCCC), chaired by the President, and consisting of Ministers and experts from the scientific community. It provided stewardship for the implementation, monitoring and reporting on this response strategy. Visible leadership was provided to the nation, communicating the country’s response to the global pandemic, keeping the nation consistently informed of all decisions that the NCCC had taken to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 pandemic. Technical support to the NCCC was provided by the National Joint Operations and Intelligence Centre (NatJoints), chaired by the Secretary of Defence, which consisted of various work streams which reported through the NatJoints of Directors-General (DGs) to the NCCC. National coordination structures were replicated at the provincial and local government level.
Work streams included those to deal with threat assessment; public health infections containment, with two sub-committees -- decontamination of public spaces and facility management (quarantine, field hospitals and mortuary management); travel restrictions and border security measures; legal and regulatory measures; communication and community mobilisation; economic measures; social impact mediation measures; data and modelling; enforcement and security; and an economic recovery strategy task team.
The Presidential Coordinating Council (PCC) and various multi-sectoral, intergovernmental structures were set up to communicate government’s efforts to combat the spread of the Corona virus. The President had met with civil society, business, labour, traditional leaders and various other stakeholders, strategising on how to protect peoples’ lives against the pandemic. These efforts had been communicated to the SA public continuously and in various forms.
The South African government had greater impact it if worked together, across all national departments and across the three spheres of government, and mobilised society’s support.
- Government possessed the capacity to make decisions in a quick and efficient manner. Good practices that had been established must be sustained.
- Government’s ability to respond quickly and efficiently during times of crisis enhanced its hegemony amongst the people, and being a learning organism able to take appropriate counsel helped to optimise positive outcomes. The transition from Alert level 5 to Alert level 4 had occurred against a backdrop of increasing cases of Covid-19. In addition, South Africa had not fully complied with the WHO’s six criteria for the easing of the lockdown while cases began to increase exponentially. It had balanced health concerns with the need to sustain livelihoods.
- Government’s capacity to respond during disasters enhanced citizens’ trust in it.
- Government communication was an intrinsic and important part of all decision-making and its implementation processes. Communication enhanced people’s trust in government.
- The strengths of South Africa’s research and innovation capacity was visible, given the role of leading SA scientists in global and local efforts to develop possible solutions, such as diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics.
Issues for future consideration
Mr Mosley-Lefatola said several areas had been identified for consideration. These included:
- Improved planning -- emphasise the value of planning in implementing projects, and address the lack or insufficiency of planning by institutions.
- Improve co-ordination -- establish clear mechanisms for collaboration by the key Departments responsible for coordination and monitoring. This would result in the establishment of clear institutional arrangements among the key structures in all spheres of government for enhanced implementation, integrated reporting and coordination processes.
- Planning and co-ordination support – the DPME, as the oversight monitoring department, needed to play an active role to ensure quality of planning and improved coordination across government levels, as well as among other stakeholders.
- Monitoring -- implementing departments and institutions should put in place stringent monitoring systems to ensure regular monitoring of progress made in the implementation of COVID19 interventions.
- Continuation in developing poverty alleviation programmes, with all departments collaborating to tackle poverty resulting from the effects of the economic slowdown.
- Security issues needed to be considered in all the plans of government going forward.
- Communication -- improve coordination in providing consistent communication by departments and their respective agencies/entities, to address public frustrations.
Updating Medium Term Strategic Framework 2019-2024
DG Nkuna presented the evolving MTSF 2019-24, and said the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated South Africa’s weak economic growth and further strained the national Budget. Government had responded by declaring a national State of Disaster, a national lockdown supported by a risk-based strategy, and a R500bn relief package. More needed to be done to stabilise the environment and to plan for recovery. This would also require building the capability of the State to improve delivery. Improved coordination, integrated planning and efficiency of delivery was required to ensure medium to long-term recovery and inclusive development.
Key inputs to support the MTSF update included the NDP review report, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) implementation plan, District Delivery Model (DDM) institutional arrangements, the skills priority master plan, the national Covid-19 response plan, the economic recovery plan and the revised fiscal framework. The intention was to integrate all the key plans into a results-based framework through the MTSF. This would assist with coordination and ensure that important interventions and milestones were monitored to support delivery and accountability.
The proposed roadmap and milestones involved presenting the MTSF bi-annual report and MTSF update roadmap to the Cabinet Lekgotla for endorsement, confirmation of the inter-governmental alignment via the President's Coordinating Council (PCC) and approval through Cabinet, and the final updated MTSF being presented to the Cabinet Lekgotla and preparation of the 2021 State of Nation Address.
Mr Nkona said a problem area was that priority-setting changed path dependency. The institutional structure of government, by its nature, imposed binding constraints which resulted in path dependency, with a natural aggregation of priorities from multiple stakeholders that locked it into a developmental path that was not necessarily the most optimal. The aim of priority-setting was to ensure that interventions were considered critical enough to catalyse innovation and growth – for example, for sustainable development, regional or global competitiveness. This meant that resources should not be allocated to ensure that everyone got just enough, but social and economic interventions with the greatest impact should rather be prioritised.
Ms M Kibi (ANC) agreed that COVID-19 had had a devastating effect on socio-economic activities in the country. Its effect was not only significant to South Africa alone, but globally, and no country had a manual to deal with it. As a result of the pandemic, many workers had been laid off and it had exacerbated unemployment in the country. As a result, the government had disbursed grants to various departments. As the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation, was it monitoring the distribution of these grants? How were they keeping tabs to ensure the majority of people who applied for the grants, including the social distress relief in the form of food parcels and the R350 for people who had no income, were receiving them? The Department should know about the outcry regarding corruption.
The decision to impose a national lockdown was to arrest the incidence of the pandemic, flatten the curve and improve the capacity of the health system. What kind of capacity in the health system had the government anticipated improving, knowing that the country’s health facilities were not in good condition? Was government willing to prioritise the maintenance and building of infrastructure for health care facilities to avoid a situation where the country might be found wanting in future health disasters? Did it have plans to deal with food security and poverty alleviation? How far had the government gone with the post-COVID recovery plans, and how were they to be incorporated into the MTSF? When would the Department finalise the first quarter report on the MTSF, and how was it going to inform the MTSF review? How was the Department improving its monitoring capability through the use of technology? How was it managing to ensure that there was synergy with the district development model?
Ms M Ntuli (ANC) asked if the Department was seeking any empowerment training for people who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Social relief had been instituted for many sectors, so what assurance was the DPME providing that those for whom it was intended would have received it? The media was awash with cases of corruption and maladministration relating to the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE). Could the Department elaborate on the role it played to ensure this would not continue? Now that it was Women’s Month, could it provide some statistics to confirm that indeed women were able to benefit from COVID-19 PPE procurement?
Dr L Schreiber (DA) said if one looked at the experiences of the last few months of this pandemic, the rosy picture painted today was not a true reflection of what South Africans were feeling. It was a bit disturbing to see that some of the figures and data used to promote SA’s positive response were from 5 May. Fast forwarding a couple of months, it was clear the pandemic situation had worsened to the point that SA now had the fifth most cases in the world and inordinate social and economic damage which would surely surpass the 7% referred to in the presentation. If the Committee was presented with information from 5 May, how could it be confident that the situation was being monitored presently beyond these reports? What was the Department planning to track, measure and mitigate the impact if things turned out to be more negative economically?
Ms C Motsepe (EFF) said the WHO had complimented SA on its handling of the pandemic compared to some European countries. Had the lockdown alert levels assisted it in flattening the curve and in improving health services? Was the DPME’s research done by an independent organisation that had analysed the impact of the pandemic in the country, had the government not implemented the lockdown? Was the Department assuring the nation that going down to level two would flatten the curve? Was it giving an assurance that easing the sale of alcohol and cigarettes would not worsen the situation? How far was the country to ensuring those who had used the excuse of the pandemic to enrich themselves were brought to book? During the lockdown, a well-coordinated integration of government departments had been witnessed -- would the government strengthen the cooperation of the three spheres of government in order to implement government programmes of action?
Ms B Maluleke (ANC) commented that there had been a remarkable decline in alcohol-related crime and hospital services when alcohol was banned. Had any lessons been learned on the increase of fatalities after the unbanning of alcohol at the lockdown alert three? What strategies had the government in place to minimise alcohol-related crimes in the future? The relief instituted by government had been highlighted by the presentation, but food parcels and grants for the unemployed had not been distributed as expected. What would the Department to to ensure the government’s plans for its citizens were implemented? Were there plans to deal with food insecurity and poverty alleviation? How far was the government with its post-COVID recovery plan, and would it be included in the MTSF? How would the Department ensure there was synergy with the district development model?
Mr C Sibisi (NFD) commented after all was said, if 1.8m jobs were being lost and the economy was going down, what recovery plans did the Department have that gave hope to SA citizens? Even though the government could not be blamed for the pandemic, it now had to rise to the occasion.
Mr S Malatsi (DA) said that the documents presented about how the pandemic was being handled went back to April, and there had been significant developments since then. As a department tasked with monitoring and evaluation, one would expect that the information presented before this Committee would reflect the closest possible situation to the current reality. This would ensure that when Members engaged with the document, it would be reflect the reality of the situation, or close to it. The number of people infected in April presented a skewed picture of the current situation, and this could lead to misleading conclusions about the government’s performance. Prior to the two month period before July, and the developments therein, there had been hints on what was likely to happen. There had been mention of the extent of the devastation the lockdown would have on economic activities and the anticipated number of job losses, and those figures had shifted significantly. Another was the issue of corruption. What had informed the President’s decision to establish an inter-ministerial Committee to look into questionable ethical issues when there were law enforcement agencies tasked with the fight against corruption, and who duplicated this function? Was it because of a loss of confidence in these institutions? What had been the cost associated with the government’s COVID-19 messages around the country on all media platforms?
Ms M Clarke (DA) was disappointed with the report presented, because it did not tell the true situation at the moment. It would have been nice to see the impact of the pandemic on livelihoods. Looking at the real picture at the moment, an additional 3m jobs were going to be lost. This Committee would like to see a report on tenders issued, the corruption discovered around those tenders, and the government strategy to deal with it. Have confidence in the law enforcement agencies been lost, so that an inter-ministerial Committee had had to be established to investigate? One needed to look at the NASREC field hospital, where R13m had been spent in 13 days.
She asked what the effect of banning alcohol and tobacco sales had had on the economy. It was not only the alcohol sales alone, but the bottling companies had shed 10 000 jobs, and R3bn that a brewery would have invested on the country had now been shelved. The curfew still in place meant the hospitality industry still had to close their kitchens at 8pm because staff had to leave at 9pm in order to be home at 10pm. The curfew made it difficult for those sectors to recover. Many small businesses that had applied for relief were not receiving it because they were not tax compliant. Government should look at a tax amnesty for small businesses and provide assistance for them to comply. That would be a win-win situation for all concerned. This Committee would like to have a report on the social relief grant, because many who had applied had not received it, as well as a report on the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and the fraud associated with it.
Ms V Malomane (ANC) said the pandemic had exposed areas where certain services were not reaching the people, especially health care services. Would the Department conduct a follow-up on these shortfalls and devote greater attention to healthcare services, particularly in the remote areas? Seemingly now that SA was at alert level two, a lot of public servants would be returning to work and may sectors would be returning to normalcy -- would the Department be monitoring this process, particularly with regard to measures and PPE, to avoid the further spread of COVID-19?
The Acting Chairperson said she also had mixed feelings regarding the first presentation, mostly because the information it contained had not been updated. The Committee would welcome suggestions from the Department on how to navigate these issues.
Deputy Minister Siweya, referring to questions regarding corruption, said the purpose of the inter-ministerial committee announced by the Cabinet was not to prosecute or conduct investigations. The President had consistently said that during the pandemic, he would keep SA citizens abreast of the situation every six weeks. That Committee, led by the Justice Minister, was only to share/publicise the names of the companies that had received PPE tenders, in the spirit of accountability. They would do nothing else. They did not have the powers to charge, investigate or prosecute anyone. The government remained confident in the ability of state institutions to do their work in the justice cluster in dealing with corruption. The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) was currently busy, as accounts of those suspected of corrupt practices in the procurement of PPE had been frozen. It had started investigations into questionable tenders in Gauteng and other provinces. The police had made arrests in the Eastern Cape already -- work was being done on that front. She was confident that state institutions had the capacity to deal with these matters. When the DPME it presented its annual COVID report, it would also contain what the government had done with regard to PPE-related tender corruption.
Mr Nkona said some of the questions not answered now would be responded to via written replies. The Department had noted the suggestion by the Committee that quarterly report submissions should include contemporary issues embracing the period under review. In the main, that would entail asking the relevant departments, as the Members had so indicated during this exercise. Those answers would be provided as requested.
On the issue of public servants going back to work, when regulations for level two were issued, they were specific on the requirements for this level. It was envisaged that everyone, including the government, would comply with the requirements for level two. As for government, the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) was responsible for this function, and liaised with all other government departments to ensure compliance based on guidelines issued for level two, with other supplementary requirements according the various departments’ needs. It was also the DPSA that reported to the COVID-19 committee on what was being done.
The report on food security confirmed that a lot was being done by government. Departments that had a role to play in regard to food security were being convened. The approach was that the DPME could play a role to ensure that there was a cross-cluster engagement on this issue.
The tenders that had been issued were being publicised in some provinces. It was going to become the new normal, whereby the government would make public the tenders that had been issued. The relevant department would be asked to answer the question about the NASREC tenders.
The impact of the tobacco and alcohol ban had involved a cost-benefit analysis. When that had been done, it had not meant the choices were bereft of challenges. In this case, the government had had to weigh the health and economic concerns, which was not an easy task. There would always be dissatisfied people, whatever the choice was. Even though this analysis was not done by DPME, it did know it was an attempt by the government to create equilibrium between health and economic concerns.
On social relief grants up to the end of this reporting period, it was important for Members to know when it had all started. Reporting on previous issues helped to create a baseline. What was being reported now were the packages that had been distributed to the various committees. The next reporting period would embrace everything, including social relief grants and food parcels. Teams were currently hard at work to unearth all the relevant information needed, such as the number that had received the food parcels and whether they were the right quality. This was a very serious issue, and the Committee would receive the report. The Department would discuss the matter with the minister and his deputy, to make an arrangement to brief the Committee before the end of the second quarter.
The alcohol ban had not been an easy decision to take. There was a digital data analytic tool being introduced that help to track and guide the evidence. The Department would continue to update the Committee as it went along.
In Q1, the DPME was focusing on output, but in Q2 the focus would shift to impact assessment.
On economic recovery, a lot of things were being done by the government. The DPSA, National Treasury and other departments were signing agreements with various funding institutions to support key infrastructure work. There were also engagements with business on common areas of interest, and they were being presented at various committees and clusters that were dealing with recovery.
The reason the DPME was saying SA had done better than other countries in the way it had handled the COVID-19 pandemic was because it was a small country with a small economy, and had done well relative to its size. If one compared SA relative to similar smaller economies, and had it done nothing, scientists had projected that it would have come out worse than it was now.
On monitoring, the Department submitted reports to the President on a regular basis. It went to the clusters as the issues arose. The Chairperson should guide the Department on how it should share information, being mindful of the fact that the DPME had few people in the field.
He said a lot of independent research had been done, and the findings would all be included in the final report on the performance of government with regards to the pandemic that would be presented to the Members of this Committee.
There was appreciation of the need to use the pandemic management response as an opportunity to empower people. The DPME would, while dealing with Covid-19 tender corruption issues, include an element of empowerment for women, youth, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and people with disabilities. Recommendations would be made to the relevant clusters so that opportunities that arose could benefit this group of people.
The maintenance of health facilities had actually not been looked at. It was now noted, and recommendations would now be made so it could form part of the public works programme, where young people could be employed in this programme to refurbish existing infrastructure.
Regarding the MTSF review, what had been presented today was a roadmap of the review, but the performance of government on its implementation as it currently stood was being reviewed at the same time. Submissions had been received from government on what they had done up until the end of the quarter. This report would assist the Department when it went to Cabinet.
The chairperson thanked DPME on their presentations and asked them to include questions asked by Members today but was not answered when they come back to present their second Quarter reports. They should also try to be as current in their report as possible. Due to the lack of time, no follow-up questions would be permitted.
After the adoption of three quarterly performance reports, the Committee considered its future plans and recommended that on the MTSF report just presented, it would look forward to receiving an actual specific report. Regarding the current updated COVID-19 figures, the Department must include separate presentations on the issues raised by Members when they came back to present the 2nd and 3rd quarter COVID reports. Concerns that should be included were the financial expenditures, service providers engaged, and amounts paid to them. If there were any allegations of corruption in the Department, how they had responded to them should be documented. The hotline update and how many issues have been resolved should also be reported in their next appearance before this Committee. Their compliance with the requirement for 30-day payment to suppliers should form part of their report too.
The meeting was adjourned
- Measures Implemented by South African Government to Combat Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) During Pre-disaster and Disaster Phases
- 2nd Report of DPME on measures implemented by South African Government to combat Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) during the disaster phase
- DPME: Updating the Medium Term Strategic Framework 2019-2024
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