It’s been a week since President Cyril Ramaphosa received a legal letter from the Democratic Alliance (DA) in which they demanded that a clear outline of the proposed plan to procure COVID-19 vaccines is articulated, however Ramaphosa has missed his seven day window to respond.
The DA voiced dire concern over the plausibility of the strategy currently being punted by government, which aims to immunise some 40 million South Africans by the end of 2021. The opposition party fear that negotiation delays for adequate procurement has put the country’s chances of avoiding further deaths and a third wave of infections in jeopardy.
Ramaphosa given till ‘day end’ to respond
Siviwe Gwarube, the DA’s Shadow Minister of Health, said that that should they not receive a response on Monday, they have no choice but to head to the courts.
“The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) lawyers wrote to the Presidency seven days ago making the case that President Cyril Ramaphosa has a constitutional obligation – as does his entire Executive – to be transparent about the vaccine acquisition and distribution plan,” he said. “We committed to approaching the courts for relief should this not be done within seven days. Time is now officially up.”
Gwarube said that should government not publicly table a “detailed, costed and practical vaccine acquisition plan by day end”, they will proceed with court action as a “last resort”.
He added that the DA is now relying on the precedent that was set during the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) case of 2002 against the Department of Health where the courts determined that transparency was key in matters of public health.
Provincial health departments stuck in limbo without clear vaccine plan
Gwarube bemoaned the sustained lack of clarity surrounding the promised arrival of vaccines, with the first batch – procured through the Covax facility – said to be expected by the end of the quickly concluding month of January.
“We are still none the wiser about when exactly this batch is due to arrive and how the allocation to the provinces will be handled for its healthcare workers,” he said, adding that Provincial health departments are “hamstrung from bedding down concrete plans for the storage and distribution of the vaccine” due to a lack of clear information on projected arrival dates.
“South Africa has no clarity on the exact timelines of the vaccination process including the acquisition, logistics and distribution. This is breathtakingly poor form from government; one which will continue to cost us lives and livelihoods,” he said.
Health Department ‘asleep at the wheel’
The DA went on to suggest that the cause of delays in negotiating successful procurement arrangements with suppliers is down to the Department of Health “falling asleep at the wheel”.
He cited a response from National Treasury in which they indicate that applications to deviate from the normal procurement processes for the acquisition of the vaccine were only submitted by the Department of Health on the 7 January 2021.
“This the clearest confirmation that the Executive has been slow-footed in the process of acquiring this vaccine as such we are now scrambling; being charged exorbitant fees and still nowhere near getting the volume of vaccines that we so desperately need.”