Why a DA govt would have been rolling out a vaccine by now

John Steenhuisen says the ANC’s handling of pandemic is arguably their greatest failing yet

Why a DA government would have been rolling out a vaccine by now

27 January 2021

Were the DA in national government, South Africans would be looking forward to a return to normal life this year, because a vaccine rollout would be well underway already. Nothing could more clearly highlight the importance of voting for a party with sound fundamentals, such as a commitment to merit-based appointments and tenders, an essential precondition for building a capable state.

The ANC government’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic (ranked second to last in Bloomberg’s ranking of 53 countries) is arguably their greatest failing yet, despite intense competition from disasters such as state capture (the full effects of which are now being revealed by the Zondo commission), endemic corruption, and one of the world’s highest unemployment rates.

The crucial difference between the DA and the ANC is in their core values. These are the seeds from which all outcomes ultimately sprout.

The ANC’s many governing failures are all due to the same fatal flaws in the party: its ideology of centralised state control, its policy of cadre deployment (where appointments are based on political loyalty rather than merit), and its policy of BEE (where tender allocations are based on identity rather than merit, providing a fig leaf for the enrichment of a politically connected elite).

These have combined to create a failed state incapable of performing even its most basic public sector duties such as providing healthcare and policing, but nonetheless hellbent on controlling every aspect of the private sector, to the detriment of both sectors.

Hence, we went into this pandemic with a weak healthcare system, unsustainable debt levels and an economy in recession. Our flailing, failing state has responded with heavy-handed restrictions which have wreaked enormous social and economic disruption, shutting down whole industries with neither rationale nor compensation. And yet they have failed to suppress the virus, which has run rampant through communities.

Under such conditions a swift, efficient vaccine rollout becomes all the more urgent but all the less likely.

Under a DA government, SA would have entered the pandemic in a much better state with a stronger healthcare system, because public appointments and tenders would be based on ability to deliver, which gives rise to a capable state.

Additional healthcare capacity would have been added as a matter of priority, as was showcased in the DA-run Western Cape province where the supply of available beds was quickly increased by building several fully equipped and staffed field hospitals so that the provincial government was able to deliver healthcare to all in need. There would have been no BEE to provide mechanism and cover for the looting of PPE funds.

SA would have entered the pandemic with a much stronger economy and better resourced Treasury, simply because the DA believes decision-making should be decentralised, giving rise to a market-driven economy. So, no state-owned companies syphoning off public money for decades, and far fewer restrictions on the real builders of our economy, entrepreneurs.

We would have responded to the pandemic by focusing on the high-impact interventions: adding healthcare capacity and rolling out an effective testing and tracing system to isolate the virus.

We would have allowed for more decentralised decision-making within a sensible set of safety protocols, so that households and businesses, municipalities and provinces could balance their need to save lives and livelihoods based on their specific risk profiles.

We would have been able to provide a much stronger safety net to households and businesses impacted by the pandemic.

And we would have begun negotiating with manufacturers for a supply of vaccines back in mid-2020 when most other middle-income countries were doing so. And planning and budgeting for a rollout. Not because we’re a special political party. But because we share the same core principles as the world’s most successful countries: appointments and tenders based on merit, which produces a capable state that knows to focus on its own role of providing public goods and give citizens the freedom to focus on theirs: building their lives and livelihoods.

But the DA is sadly not in government, and our ANC government only woke up to the need for vaccines this year. This failure may cost thousands of lives, millions of livelihoods and billions in tax revenue in the coming years. It is a major, major setback for South Africa, and it should spell the end of the ANC in government.

Let’s be clear here. This is entirely the fault of the South African government; it was entirely their responsibility. Especially as they insisted on full, centralized control without parliamentary oversight, under the cover of the flawed Disaster Management Act, which makes no provision for executive oversight. (The DA is challenging this in court but was denied direct access to the Constitutional Court.).

And so, no-one should be fooled by the victim narrative that President Ramaphosa is now pushing, to shift blame elsewhere.

Yesterday, in a World Economic Forum speech, he blamed other countries for buying up all the available vaccines. He blamed them for doing their job and getting in the queue, saying: “We are deeply concerned about the problem of vaccine nationalism, which, unless addressed, will endanger the recovery of all countries."

Which is code for: “Other countries are to blame for South Africa not having vaccines because we didn’t pay our deposits to get in the queue and other countries must now give us some of their vaccines otherwise it will be their fault if South African lives are lost.”

Israel has already vaccinated 40% of their population, after their prime minister personally made 17 phone calls to the CEO of Pfizer last year to secure a sufficient supply of vaccines. Is Israel now to blame because Ramaphosadidn’t pick up the ball or the phone till this year?

Ramaphosa has also tried pleading poverty, saying South Africa couldn’t afford to risk paying deposits for vaccines that had not yet passed their trials. This is deeply disingenuous on two counts. Firstly, the deposits (known as advance market commitments) involved a refund for unsuccessful trials. And secondly, a fully costed vaccine rollout to herd immunity is estimated to cost R8.6 to 16.4 billion – roughly the same cost as a single day of hard lockdown, which was estimated to cost R13 billion. In other words, we couldn’t afford not to pay those deposits.

The DA gave the government seven days to disclose details of their vaccine acquisition and rollout plans. This deadline has now expired, so we will be filing court papers tomorrow to obtain a court declaration forcing government to do so. This will enable us to track and monitor government’s performance and hold them to account for non-performance, rather like the declaratory order that finally got the government to take the anti-retroviral rollout seriously to fight HIV.

If we need to defy the SA government’s decision to be the sole procurer of vaccines to get them to the people of the Western Cape sooner, we will. Just like we defied national policy to keep school-feeding programmes open and ECD subsidies flowing during the hard lockdown last year.

It is our core values that define the difference between the DA and the ANC. It is our core values around which we seek to unite South Africans. It is our core values that enable us to deliver superior outcomes where we govern. And it is our core values that we will be looking to apply in more and more municipalities when we contest the local government elections later in 2021, the year that South African feel mostly keenly the results of their political choices.

Warm regards,

John Steenhuisen

DA Leader