Deliberation on public engagement process – Report back of Working Groups
Adhoc Committee on Covid-19 (WCPP)
14 October 2020
Chairperson: Ms M Wenger (DA)
Video: Ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19, 14 October 2020, 13:00
The Committee met to deliberate on the public input received in a virtual meeting. The Committee received just under 17 000 submissions which was split among five working groups. The Committee heard feedback from a representative of each of the five groups.
Group One said the workgroup considered the following themes identified during its public participation process: exposure to the virus and experience of the health system; food support availability; attitudes towards mask wearing; access to Covid-19 grants; workplace safety; availability and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on public transport; social distancing and temperature checks at schools and; views on the reopening of Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres.
Group Two said the overall response was the health systems in South Africa were not fully functional and prepared for the pandemic The initial lockdown announced by the President should have been utilised to adequately prepare the health system to deal with the pandemic, but it highlighted the complete mismanagement of the health care systems.
Group Three said government could have done more to ensure proper food security and there should have been better control over the distribution of food parcels. Job losses grew faster than the spread of the coronavirus, and the pandemic had a negative impact not only on the economy but also on food security. The majority of the respondents found wearing masks unnecessary, but agreed to wear masks, nonetheless.
Group Four said there were many instances where Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) / Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) was applied for by employers, and not paid over to employees. This could be classified as UIF fraud. There were promises regarding UIF/TERS which were not delivered on. Some employers applied for UIF for employees at the same time, but only some employees received money from UIF.
The vast majority of submissions noted the respondents were not tested for Covid. Quite a large percentage of respondents who indicated being tested, did so through private laboratories, and referred to the significant costs for the tests.
The Chairperson welcomed Committee Members to the meeting. The meeting was to deliberate on the public input received. The Committee received just under 17 000 submissions, which was split among the five working group sessions created the previous Thursday and Friday. The Committee heard feedback from a representative of each of the five groups.
Group 1 Feedback
Ms L Botha (DA) said the workgroup considered the following themes which were identified by the Covid-19 Adhoc Committee during its public participation process. It included: exposure to the virus and experience of the health system; food support availability; attitudes toward mask wearing; access to Covid-19 grants; workplace safety; availability and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on public transport; social distancing and temperature checks at schools; and, views on reopening Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres. The workgroup considered approximately 4000 submissions made in writing, WhatsApp, and voice notes, from members of the public, on the identified themes.
Regarding exposure to the virus and experience of the health system, comments received from members of the public noted support received after receiving positive Covid-19 test results were inconsistent. Some received regular contact checks, while others did not. Similarly, some received food parcels while in isolation, and others did not. Some said the Covid-19 medical test was painful to undertake, while several other comments made it clear there was a lack of understanding of the testing regime – which also changed over time. One person said the private healthcare’s x-ray screening protocols were poor. Some noted disappointment about Covid-19 testing in the private sector not being subsidised.
Regarding food support availability, stakeholders noted, not only was the access to food challenging, but accessing sanitisers was also problematic. Concern was raised about the rise in starvation in South Africa due to the pandemic, as well as the unequal distribution of food parcels during the pandemic. There was an overwhelming support for wearing masks, including a recommendation saying those who were caught not wearing masks should be arrested to face prosecution. Although some stakeholders were against wearing masks, many expressed reluctances to wear masks, but would wear one anyway. Concerns were raised around the lack of information regarding the use and management of masks.
Stakeholders said applications were rejected without providing reasons. There was a belief there was an inconsistent approval, and disbursement of grants. Older persons stood in long queues to draw South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) grants. There were long waiting times for the SASSA grants and there was no social distancing in the queues. The SASSA call centre did not answer calls which queried SASSA grants payouts.
Stakeholders said they (stakeholders) were unsure how to access grants, including how to access and apply for indigent grants. The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) offices were also closed during the pandemic, which made it challenging to draw UIF payouts. The stakeholders noted concerns around corruption, specifically around the R350 Covid-19 relief grant payout earmarked for unemployed and older persons. Stakeholders said there was an unfair disbursement of support based on race. Small businesses were not recipients of any aid during the pandemic. There was also no employee contact tracing carried out by the businesses who had employees who tested positive for Covid-19.
Concerns were raised because sanitisers were not always available on public transport, including the use of questionable sanitising products by public transport providers. Many inputs received thought it unfair taxis could operate at 100% while there were restrictions on other sorts of gatherings, or visiting family members. Stakeholders raised concern around the fact school fees had to be paid while children were home-schooled. There was also disapproval around children being requested to attend school, while government employees were working virtually from home, and were not required to return to offices. Stakeholders noted disappointment because parents were left stranded without support for child-care needs, as ECD Centres remained closed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- There should be continued communication campaigns on wearing masks, as well as on how to use it; including social distancing.
- Government should communicate clearly on the Covid-19 testing regime, and especially if any changes are affected in these protocols.
- The UIF should open its offices for stakeholders to access funds.
- SASSA should assist beneficiaries with applications and be transparent in its application processes. SASSA must ensure safety protocols are implemented and maintained at pay point queues.
- Financial support should be given to all affected people, not just on the basis of race.
- Traffic officials should enforce the implementation and use of sanitisers in public transports, and the taxi industry must play an active role to enforce PPE compliance in taxis.
- The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) should play a bigger role in home learning. Psychological support should be provided to children, elderly, and the disabled, who reside in care facilities.
Group 2 Feedback
Mr D Mitchell (DA) said from the onset the group took note of the contributions made by the respective public submissions. These were received via the ‘Dear South Africa’ portal, as part of the public participation process.
While most of the responses noted lockdown regulations were unnecessary, some responses were in agreement and noted the regulations should have been more strictly enforced. The overwhelming sentiments were, some of the regulations did not make sense when it came to the following matters: Closed municipalities and government services; curfew; queues at government pay points (SASSA grants); taxi 100% occupancy allowed versus family/religious gatherings limitations; the freedom of choice relating to smoking and drinking; travel ban within a country; and the opening of schools versus not opening schools until the peak was over.
The overall response was, health systems in South Africa were not fully functional and prepared for the pandemic. The initial lockdown announced by the President should have been utilised to adequately prepare the health system to deal with the pandemic. Instead it highlighted the complete mismanagement of the health care systems.
There was clear mismanagement of the way the food parcels process was handled. Food parcels were not received by the correct recipients, with no consequences to the people who managed the process. Food parcels were used for personal and political gain, and distributed in certain areas only, where it was not made available to the poor.
Most submissions received noted masks should be worn, with the odd submission noting refusal to wear a mask. A few submissions received, said it was unnecessary to wear masks, however, agreed to wear it. There were vast concerns from the public regarding taxis being allowed to operate at 100%, as it could increase the COVID-19 infection rate. No comments were received regarding workplace safety; social distancing; and temperature checks at schools.
The group recommended the Western Cape Provincial Parliament engage with ‘Dear South Africa’ in the future for citizen involvement and public participation processes. It was clear not all submissions were made by residents of the Western Cape.
Group 3 Feedback
Mr D America (DA) said a high percentage of respondents were not directly exposed to the virus and very few were tested. The majority of the tests done by respondents were negative, however, concerns were raised regarding the turnaround time, and manner in which tests were done. The overall response was government reacted extremely poorly to the pandemic. In preparation to the pandemic more attention should have been given to upgrading existing health facilities, rather than building temporary health facilities. The response with regard to the quality of health care and frontline workers was excellent. The decisions made by the government were erratic, and the lack of proper consideration of the circumstances of the public eroded trust in the government. There was no logic in the decision-making by government, especially with regard to the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.
The government could have done more to ensure proper food security and there should have been better control over the distribution of food parcels. Job losses grew faster than the spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic had a negative impact not only on the economy, but also on food security. The majority of the respondents noted wearing masks was unnecessary, but agreed to wear masks.
There should be stricter control of the delinquent and lawless taxi industry. It was clear the responsible people did not understand the regulations applicable to the taxi industry. The majority conformed to the requirements of temperature checks, social distancing, and wearing masks.
- Government should be more sensitive towards the needs of the people, and should provide better and faster assistance to small businesses and indigent households.
- There must be a clear and strong stance against corruption.
- The virus did not discriminate, the government should have clear policies in place to assist households during disaster situations like Covid-19.
- Proper attention should be given to the regulations, implementation, and enforcement of it, because the regulations contributed to ordinary citizens becoming involved in criminal activities.
- A differentiated approach needs to be followed during the various levels of the lockdown, as not all areas are affected in the same way.
- The government needs to communicate better with the people.
Group 4 Feedback
Ms D Baartman (DA) introduced herself and all others who formed part of group four. She said people in private hospitals received better service than those who went to public hospitals/facilities. The lockdown was about getting the healthcare system ready – but was the healthcare sector ready for the second wave, was a question of concern.
Regarding food support availability, she said people were promised food parcels, but the promise was not delivered. Communication around food security and availability was poor. People were concerned about the food availability strategy going forward. There was no clear distinction regarding who received food parcels, or criteria used to identify people who were entitled to food parcels.
Many submissions noted refusal to wear masks. In stark contrast, some submissions noted people should be arrested for not wearing masks. Regarding access to Covid-19 grants, there were many instances where Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF)/Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) was applied for by employers and not paid over to employees. This could be classified as UIF fraud. There were broken promises where UIF/TERS was promised, but not delivered, as well as stolen grant money. Some employers applied for UIF for employees at the same time, but only some employees received money from UIF. Employers tried to share the money received between employees, which upset some employees. The 100% capacity in public transport, especially school transport, was a major concern. The economy opened slowly but ECD centres remained closed. This had an impact on parents who needed to return to work, but did not have anywhere to send children while at work.
- Request the Department of Economic Development and Tourism to assist small and medium-sized businesses closing down, with business rescue procedures.
- Request the Department of Economic Development and Tourism to assist informal businesses with cutting red tape to continue trading.
- Given the likelihood of the second wave of the pandemic, ask the Department of Health if the healthcare system is prepared. Ask if the Province has sufficient funds for the possible second wave of the pandemic.
- Solidarity Fund – there was no communication about the criteria used. The question is where do people apply. There must be proper, clear communication to the public. Small local businesses must be prioritised instead of larger companies.
- Small business grants – many of the government’s grants were in fact loans which need to be repaid by the beneficiary. Many small businesses did not apply for these grants because businesses could not afford to repay these loans.
- UIF grants which were not paid – it is unacceptable, government departments are unreachable or do not answer concerns raised by applicants. This concern must be raised with relevant government departments and entities.
- National government grants were actually loans which needed to be repaid by beneficiaries, especially grants to small and medium businesses. If these businesses can prove it has sustainable businesses plans, then the loans should be converted to grants.
- The research and evidence for the respective health regulations which were Gazetted should be published so members of the public can understand the rationale behind the enforcement of the regulations.
- Government should be more lenient regarding Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and members of the public who would like to distribute food parcels to the public.
- If there should be a second wave, government needs to relook social distancing regulations and visitations to family members, given how contradictory some of the regulations were during the past few months.
- Closing ECD Centres was a flawed regulation and should be reconsidered if there are regulations imposed in the future.
- Filling taxis to 100% capacity must be informed by health evidence and research. If venues cannot be filled to capacity, then taxis should not be filled to capacity either.
- Currently, tourists from high-risk countries are not allowed to travel to South Africa. However, there is also a chance tourists from low-risk countries can test positive for COVID on arriving in South Africa. Tourists from all countries who test negative for the virus should be allowed to travel to South Africa.
Group 5 Feedback
Mr A Van der Westhuizen (DA) said group five deliberated on more than 1300 of the submissions received from the public. It would be prudent to keep in mind, in evaluating the summary below, the submissions did not come from a random sample of the wider population. This means, it was limited to people whose attention was drawn to the invitation to share experiences, and had access to electronic means, and such.
Government’s response to Covid-19
- Recognition was given for government’s early response to the pandemic.
- The overwhelming majority of the comments received rated government’s response to the pandemic as poor. A significant number of responses criticised government for not moving quickly to prepare for the pandemic during the first few weeks when there were strict lockdown regulations in place.
- Some of those who criticised governments’ response time as poor, qualified the statement by contrasting it to Western Cape. The Western Cape received accolades for the swiftness within which the health care facilities were upgraded in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The overall consensus was the population’s best interest was not taken into consideration by government, as economic hardships such as bankruptcy, retrenchment, loss of income, and short pay were not adequately considered when businesses were forced to suspend activities.
- The general view on government’s position on banning the sale of alcohol and cigarettes was, these regulations did little to prevent the spread of the virus, and it was punitive and unnecessary. Reference was made to the vast amounts of money spent on illegal cigarettes and alcohol which were sold at exorbitant prices. The perception was the ban on the sale of these products created the ideal circumstances for the illicit trade to flourish.
- People felt government failed the people. There were draconian laws penalising ordinary citizens, instead of focusing on strategies to provide psychological and economic support to persons dealing with abuse, death of primary caregivers, and loss of business and income.
- Concern was raised for the lack of consensus on decisions by government, regarding the ban of specific items. There seemed to be a conflict relaying the message to the population. This was compounded because the president did not allow questions from the media regarding decisions taken when he addressed the nation.
- A significant number of submissions expressed the view, many regulations were not based on health and risk considerations, but were drafted to suit certain lobby groups. Examples cited were taxis and religious groups being allowed to travel at full capacity, and having a higher number of people present, than what was allowed for social meetings. Reference was also made to restaurants allowed to receive clients and serve people not wearing masks, but families were not allowed to visit or provide care for the elderly.
- Anger was directed at politicians receiving a full salary, when the population was suffering economically, due to the decisions by the politicians.
Submissions regarding the regulations
- The general consensus was the pandemic required extraordinary measures to curb the spread of the virus.
- Predominantly it was submitted the regulations were arbitrary, illogical, unnecessarily harsh, and not in the best interests of South Africa. The view was the regulations were not solely motivated by the need to provide protection, but to grab more power and to enforce draconian regulations.
- Attention was drawn to public input not being sought before certain decisions were made. Health information on the virus was not made available to verify the authenticity and effectiveness of the decisions taken by government. The regulations should have been adapted to suit the specific needs of each province, as the virus affected provinces differently. People were of the opinion government did not have a smart approach when formulating the regulations.
- The regulations were criticised for the ban, regulation of feeding schemes, and soup kitchens. It was mentioned, ordinary citizens had to step in with feeding schemes, to ensure there was food for the needy.
- The government could not effectively enforce the regulations it announced.
- There is a feeling members of the public were treated like children.
- Certain regulations were perceived as if the population was not trusted.
- The closing of beaches was cited as an example of a regulation not based on any objective evidence which linked the spread of the virus to outdoor activities. Some submissions linked these regulations with political considerations.
- Taxis were allowed to transport passengers at 100% capacity. This was repeatedly referred to as an example of illogical decision-making.
- Some criticism was directed at casinos which were effectively allowed a higher number of clients, than the number of people allowed to attend a funeral.
- A number of submissions felt the regulations contained numerous inconsistencies. Examples cited referred to schools opened, while many parents were still not allowed to return to work.
About the compulsory wearing of masks
- The general view was people were willing to wear face masks. A much smaller number refused to wear masks.
- There is a general feeling wearing masks is unnecessary, but people will comply.
- Complaints were raised regarding the negative aspects of wearing a mask, but most ultimately accepted wearing a mask is the new normal.
- There is a minority view masks provide a health risk to those who wear them. Some submissions even referred to websites dealing with the infection dangers brought about by face masks.
- There are no standardised designs of what the mask should adhere to.
- The submissions were silent on the cost of masks.
- Very few people noted masks should be provided by government, or employers, or schools.
- People are allowed to take off masks in public, such as in restaurants. This seemed to be a thorn in the flesh for some respondents.
- Some people felt suffocated wearing a mask.
- Some knew of people who contracted the virus, despite diligently wearing masks in public.
- Very little evidence is available to indicate the mask protects the wearer.
- In general people expressed willingness to wear masks, but nothing was raised regarding the maintenance of the mask; guidelines were needed regarding the maintenance of masks, and the design of the mask.
- The regulation stating masks should be worn when outside of one’s residence, and therefore when in a car by oneself or with family, was seen as silly. Submissions did not refer to the advantages wearing a mask held for others with whom an infected person may come into contact with. This seems to be an area which should be addressed in a public information campaign.
Have you and/or your family members been tested
- The vast majority of submissions noted respondents were not tested.
- Quite a large percentage of respondents indicated being tested through private laboratories. Many referred to the significant costs for the tests.
- At least one submission mentioned the person was held liable for the cost by the employer, when the test result was negative.
- Rebuilding the post-Covid-19 economy should now be government’s priority. This will require drastic action in the review of economic and employment policies, and legislation to support labour-intensive economic growth.
- Those already vulnerable before the pandemic suffered the most. Government support should now be focused even stronger on the needs of the poor.
- Some of the innovations developed during the pandemic should be retained and further developed. This includes actions such as the distribution of chronic medicine to homes.
- The Western Cape Government should summarise strategies implemented to innovatively deal with giving emergency services to COVID-19 patients and infection hot spots. This should be escalated to national government as a form of best practice, should similar pandemics occur in the future.
- The regulations should be clarified to provide for a better understanding on what is meant by certain specifications/stipulations.
- Awareness campaigns should be held to increase public knowledge regarding COVID-19 regulations and the way in which the virus is spread.
- Social needs should not be ignored during future actions.
- Woman are suffering during lockdown and are abused, social issues like these have not been addressed. The offenders are not removed, but the victims are experiencing loss.
- Support for persons who experience domestic violence were inadequate.
- National government should review the social aspect of providing better support to the population who are in vulnerable situations, such as social support in homes for abused women and children, and so forth.
- Victim Support Bill should be reviewed to ensure it provides better support to the nation.
- Future actions and decisions by government should follow public-participation, and not create the impression government decisions are only influenced by certain lobby groups close to government.
The Committee deliberated on and recommended changes/alterations which would be presented in its final report. The final recommendations report will be presented and adopted on the 17 November 2020.
The Chairperson said the meeting for 23 October is cancelled. The Committee will meet Tuesday, 17 November to adopt and finalise its Committee Report. Instead of having a public hearing, the Committee will make recommendations.
Consideration and Adoption of Committee Minutes
The Chairperson said the Committee needed to go through the Draft Committee Minutes of the 26 August 2020. If there were no edits, Members were asked to adopt the minutes.
Ms Baartman moved to adopt the minutes of 26 August 2020.
Mr Mitchell seconded the adoption of the minutes of 26 August 2020.
The minutes of 26 August were adopted.
The Chairperson asked the Committee to consider the Draft Committee Minutes of 9 September 2020.
Ms Baartman moved to adopt the minutes of 9 September 2020.
Ms W Philander (DA) seconded the adoption of the minutes of 9 September 2020.
The minutes of 9 September were adopted
The Chairperson asked the Committee to consider the Draft Committee Minutes of 16 September 2020.
Ms Philander moved to adopt the minutes of 16 September 2020.
Mr Van der Westhuizen seconded the adoption of the minutes of 16 September 2020.
The minutes of 16 September 2020 were adopted.
The Chairperson asked the Committee to consider and adopt the Draft Committee Report for the month of August 2020. The Chairperson asked for a motion to adopt if there were no edits.
Mr Van der Westhuizen moved to adopt the Draft Committee Report for the month of August 2020.
Mr D America (DA) seconded the adoption of the Draft Committee Report for the month of August 2020.
The Draft Committee Report for the month of August 2020 was adopted.
The Chairperson said the next meeting would be on Tuesday, 17 November, to adopt the final Committee Report. The Draft Committee Report would be sent to Members as soon as possible as it would be a very lengthy report for Members to go through. The meeting of the 17 November would be the Committee’s final meeting. Members were thanked for the hard work.
The meeting was adjourned.
No related documents
Wenger, Ms MM
Allen, Mr R
America, Mr D
Baartman, Ms DM
Botha, Ms L
Lekker, Ms P
Mackenzie, Mr R
Mitchell, Mr D
Philander, Ms W
Van der Westhuizen, Mr AP
Windvogel, Ms R
Xego, Mr M
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