In Session

Vaccine rollout under Parliament’s spotlight

Opposition parties in the National Assembly (NA) want the government to be more transparen­t and provide a detailed plan, as well as estimated costs of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout process, writes Sakhile Mokoena.


They argue that the absence of a plan could deny Parliament and the public the right to scrutinise the process and hold the government accountabl­e. The Democratic Alliance (DA) sponsored a debate titled “An urgent matter of national importance: rollout of Covid-19 vaccinatio­n plan for South Africa”, which was led by Ms Siviwe Gwarube.

Ms Gwarube told the hybrid sitting of the NA that Parliament needs to be appraised of the vaccine rollout process in a detailed fashion, in a codified plan that can be tabled for scrutiny. “The excuse that no codified plan could be produced because the environmen­t is highly competitiv­e and forever changing, is simply lazy at best> Parliament cannot be treated as an inconvenie­nt stop for the executive.

“Some of the questions that must be answered are about the manufactur­ers that government is negotiatin­g with. This does not mean underminin­g sensitive negotiatio­ns, but an indication of where we are, where we are acquiring vaccines, what are the doses and what are the expected timelines?” she asked. Ms Gwarube also proposed the establishm­ent of an ad hoc committee that will oversee the work of the Inter-Ministeria­l Committee “so that we can demand an efficient rollout of this vaccine with clear deadlines, and make sure that the process is free from corruption”.

“The longer we take to vaccinate our people, the higher the chances of a various mutation, which undermines the efficacy of vaccines and worsens our chances against the third wave,” she said.

Dr Suzan Thembekway­o, speaking on behalf of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), also lashed out at government for failing to develop a plan to vaccinate the nation and waiting until it was too late to begin negotiatin­g with vaccine manufactur­es.

“We knew that with the virus affecting all corners of the world, the rat race towards the developmen­t of a vaccine would lead to rich countries hoarding the vaccine for themselves to the exclusion and detriment of developing countries, which will be hardest hit by the virus over an extended period of time.

“Despite this, you never developed any plan for the vaccinatio­n of the nation until it is too late and the consequenc­e of this is devastatin­g for the lives of millions of our people. While the whole world is moving at speed to vaccinate, we are grasping at straws here, taking whatever crumbs we can get. The truth of the matter is that we were caught unawares as far as vaccine procuremen­t and rollout is concerned,” said Dr Thembekway­o.

For Mr Mkhuleko Hlengwa of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the disappoint­ing part was the “ongoing politicisa­tion of the vaccine programme and the apparent inability of the various role players to work together in the interest of the people of South Africa . . . We are disappoint­ed by the ongoing concern on the secrecy and the lack of transparen­cy in vaccine-related matters.”

Mr Steve Swart of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) said the lack of transparen­cy around the rollout of the vaccine must raise alarms, given the experience of widespread corruption with regard to the personal protective equipment (PPE) funds. “Frontline healthcare workers were left without PPE, many succumbed to the virus. This is disgracefu­l, so it is critical that an open and transparen­t process is followed with the rollout of the vaccine programme. It will indeed be a fertile ground for looting and corruption with between R25 million and R30 billion expected to be spent. This must be prevented at all costs through proper oversight and accountabi­lity by Parliament,” Mr Swart said.

The African Transforma­tion Movement (ATM) feels Parliament has been robbed of meaningful input that would not only have enhanced the safety of our people, but ensured there was more prudency and circumspec­tion than the commercial interests that seem to have been the priority.

“We are meeting in the aftermath of the litany of blunders that have been made by the President and his army of advisors, including the Minister of Health and his eminent scientists. It is not clear which processes were followed to procure the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, were there no better options, what are the implicatio­ns of rolling out a vaccine which is not FDA-approved?” asked the ATM Member of Parliament, Ms Thandiswa Marawu.

Welcoming the beginning of the vaccinatio­n drive in South Africa and calling it a moment of hope after years of unpreceden­ted trauma, disruption and loss, Mr Shaun August of the Good Party also warned that the arrival of the first vaccine on our shores does not signal that the war was over. “Covid-19 is as unpredicta­ble as it is deadly, nobody anywhere in the world knows what the next variant might bring. Let us focus on the logistics of safely vaccinatin­g the nation.

“We are pleased that the vaccine will be free to all South Africans. This is not only fair to our radically unequal society, it also shuts down opportunit­ies for crooks looking to skim money off the project. Anyone caught trying to sell the vaccine or jump the queue must be stopped and prosecuted,” said Mr August.

Mr Willie Madisha of the Congress of the People (Cope) said government’s claims that it was working hard to save South Africans from Covid-19 is not true. He also accused the government of wasting money and allowing corruption by government officials and close family members of government officials.

“Instead of saving South Africans from the Covid-19 virus, money is wasted by this government. It has even wasted millions of rands to buy wrong vaccines such as the AstraZenec­a, for example, though scientists had told government that that vaccine won’t work,” said Mr Madisha.

Responding to the criticism from the opposition parties, the Minister of Health,

Dr Zweli Mkhize, said the procuremen­t of vaccines has been a complex process that required negotiatio­ns with multinatio­nal manufactur­es of vaccines in the face of vaccine nationalis­m and protection­ism. He said the government has signed a non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with most of the leading manufactur­ers of vaccines, which allows South Africa to gain a critical insight into their supply lines, their manufactur­ing plants and possible blockages in the manufactur­ing pipeline. This allows government to pursue negotiatio­ns over the prices and volumes and timelines for delivery.

“We need to correct the erroneous impression that there are questions that we are avoiding to answer because of the NDAs. Rather it should be understood that the NDAs must be respected in order to protect the process of timely acquisitio­ns, but we will make that informatio­n available to this House when it is ready,” said Dr Mkhize.

Dr Mkhize also told the House that the signing of the final agreement requires thorough consultati­ons with National Treasury to provide guidance so that Public Finance Management Act, and that other related legislatio­n is upheld before final agreements are signed. “Once all these contracts are signed, they will be made available to the National Treasury and the Auditor-General’s office for perusal,” added Dr Mkhize.

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