Vaccine plan too vague, SA deserves details – DA to submit PAIA application

By Siviwe Gwarube* 

Following Minister Mkhize’s press conference last night in which he attempted to brief the country on the plans for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, the DA will now be submitting a PAIA application to obtain the codified detailed plan to ensure the integrity of this process. This is in accordance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) of 2000.

What is critical with an application of this kind is the fact that Minister Mkhize and his department will have 30 days to respond by providing this codified plan and will not be able to deny its publication because this is now a matter of urgent public importance.

The reality is that last night’s presentation was long overdue and simply too vague for the initial phase of the vaccine negotiations taking place across the globe. The level of detail provided last night is what was expected two months ago and not at this point.

Minister Mkhize should now be able to provide the DA with a detailed plan that should be in existence and should be made public. Powerpoint presentations do not substitute the need for a detailed plan that answers the following critical questions:

  • A record of decision and proof of bilateral engagements and the exact status of each of these discussions.
  • Cost breakdown from the vaccine manufacturers that are being considered. The non-disclosure agreements that are signed by government should not impede our ability to perform oversight on this entire process.
  • The details of the procurement mechanism. Government has stated that there will be a centralised system of procurement, an endeavour which could spell massive delays for the country should it be fraught with corruption and mismanagement.
  • A rollout plan which comprises of all arranged points of distribution for both the public and private sector.
  • Agreements that detail the rules of engagements between the public and private sector to ensure that as many South Africans have access to this vaccine urgently.
  • How the identified healthcare and front-line workers will be provided access to the vaccine – the system that will be followed.
  • Sources of budget for the procurement and the distribution of the vaccine – how local and provincial governments will be equipped and resourced.
  • The details of the logistics for storage, transportation and distribution of the vaccine.

Legal precedent provided for by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) litigation against government has shown the need for utmost transparency in matters of public health and access to life-saving interventions. It is therefore critical that we are not drip-fed information relating to this process but we are provided a plan that is now ready for rollout.

In reality, there are many aspects of this process which should have begun last year which did not need the finalisation of the procurement of the vaccine to be completed.

Furthermore, South Africans deserve to know what the details of government’s vaccine plan is – and they deserve to know immediately, because we can’t afford more waves of infection or rolling lockdowns. Since the Speaker of the National Assembly refused to urgently reconvene Parliament for a debate regarding details of the plan, the DA will continue to pursue the matter in Parliament.

We will not simply stand by and allow the South African government’s flat-footed response to this vaccine process cost us any more lives that could be saved.

  • Siviwe Gwarube is the DA Shadow Minister of Health.