The trust deficit in government officials rooted in corruption took centre stage on Tuesday at a special joint sitting of parliament called by President Cyril Ramaphosa on the deadly floods in KwaZulu-Natal and other areas.
Opposition party members pulled no punches as they cast doubt on whether millions of rands in relief funds to be released by the government would reach the intended victims of the floods that ripped through parts of KwaZulu-Natal, and to a lesser extent the Eastern Cape and North West.
Ramaphosa was first to concede that it was a great source of “shame” that when the disaster struck in KZN, the most burning public debate was around fears that the resources allocated to respond to it would be misappropriated.
He said the treasury was providing guidance to the relevant institutions on how they may reprioritise resources in their budgets, as well as the reallocation of conditional grant funds.
Ramaphosa added that another source of funding was the contingency reserve for 2022-23, which can be used for the repair and rebuilding of damaged infrastructure and other disaster recovery, but will become available only once the Appropriation Act 2022 is enacted.
“This will provide independent assurance on whether public funds have been appropriately
accounted for and were used for their intended purpose. These audits aim to prevent, detect and report on the findings to ensure an immediate response to prevent leakage, potential fraud and wastage,” he said.
“Treasury is also strengthening reporting requirements with respect to expenditure on disaster relief. To improve monitoring and ensure greater transparency, the details of all disaster-related procurement by public institutions will be published on the treasury website to allow public scrutiny of these procurement transactions.”
Ramaphosa’s assurances, however, fell on deaf ears as, one after the other, opposition parties lambasted his government for the corruption that tainted the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen also questioned the government’s commitment to the relief and recovery process, accusing cabinet members of having slept on the job.
He said that in the two weeks since the floods, many communities were still without water and electricity. In many areas, there was still no sign of water tankers, which could have easily been brought in from other provinces.
“In your televised address straight after the flood, you said that the primary responsibility to co-ordinate and manage the disaster had been assigned to the national government. In theory, this would lift the responsibility off the shoulders of these inept local and provincial spheres of government and allow you to manage the rescue and relief process centrally,” Steenhuisen said.
“But I say ‘in theory’, because in the real world this is not what is happening at all. In the real world, no one is managing the process. Everyone has simply run away from the problem, and desperate residents have been left to fend for themselves.
“City officials have switched off their phones, the mayor has gone awol, councillors are telling panicked residents to eff off on WhatsApp, the premier [Sihle Zikalala] grabbed a water tanker for himself, council staff tried to steal care packages donated to rescuers, and when ministers finally arrived on the scene, they ended up commandeering helicopters meant for rescue and recovery missions for their own self-important fly-overs.”
The DA leader was followed by Economic Freedom Fighters MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi, who said money released by the government must be fully accounted for and be used by fully authorised state institutions.
“We cannot hand over functions of government to unelected people. Anyone found to be stealing from citizens must be arrested. We will be on the ground and work together with our people as they try to rebuild their lives,” she said.
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald called out Ramaphosa for his statements in 2021 that the ANC was accused number one in corruption.
He said he had no confidence that Ramaphosa would keep thieves away from the relief funds, noting that the president had made a similar assurance in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There are hyenas and vultures waiting at the gates for the funds to be open. Funds must be opened for public scrutiny,” Groenewald said, adding that the government must also concede that the flooding was partly caused by poor infrastructure and planning in KwaZulu-Natal.
Former Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said there was a real fear that relief funds would be plundered long before they reached destitute families.
KwaZulu-Natal has suffered the most extensive damage after its coastal parts experienced extremely heavy rainfall, with the eThekwini metro and the districts of King Cetshwayo, iLembe, Ugu and Umgungundlovu hardest hit.
Ramaphosa said that the eThekwini metro had received about 30% of its annual rainfall in a mere 24 hours, equivalent to 110 days of rainfall. The deluge had left 435 people dead in the three provinces. At present, there are 54 people still missing or unaccounted for, while more than 5 700 houses have been completely destroyed and nearly 10 000 houses have been partially damaged.
About 630 schools have been affected and more 100 schools are not accessible at present. Some 58 learners and one teacher have died, while five students are still missing.
“The economic damage is substantial, notably to the port of Durban, one of the continent’s busiest ports. The supply of essential services has been disrupted, leaving homes, schools and businesses without water and electricity,” Ramaphosa said.
“In the Eastern Cape, the districts of Alfred Nzo, Chris Hani, Joe Gqabi and OR Tambo bore the brunt of the flooding. At least two people lost their lives in the flooding, three people were injured and around 1 000 people were affected by the destruction of houses and other losses.”.
Ramaphosa said the government would institute a three-phase approach to the recovery and relief efforts. The first phase is focused on humanitarian assistance to ensure that all affected people are safe and their basic needs, like food and water, are met.
“Working with NGOs, religious bodies, companies and relief organisations, the different
spheres of government have been providing meals, blankets, dignity packs and other
essentials to displaced individuals in shelters, schools and community halls. Some of these have not been adequate. Some have not provided the necessary dignity. That is why I have said that people must be moved with greater speed to temporary accommodation,” Ramaphosa said.
“Relief has also been provided in the form of social relief of distress grants to affected individuals, the supply of emergency water, provision of school uniforms and assistance with funeral costs. Mobile classrooms are being deployed to damaged schools and repair work is underway to ensure a return to schooling in these areas as soon as possible.”
Ramaphosa said the second phase would involve rehousing people who have lost homes and restoring provision of services.
He said clean-up campaigns were underway in all affected municipalities, with participants in the community works programme involved in many areas. The South African National Roads Agency has been working with national and provincial transport departments and affected municipalities to assess the damage to key routes and support the repair work that is currently underway, he added.
“Restoring water supply to all areas remains a significant challenge, however, and is vital if
we are to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all residents of these areas. Electricity has been restored in most areas of eThekwini and other affected municipalities, although there is still a high volume of faults being reported,” the president said.
“Providing accommodation for families that have lost their homes is a priority, especially with the winter months approaching. This involves, in the immediate term, the provision of temporary residential units and a voucher system for households to rebuild partially damaged houses.”
Ramaphosa said the third phase would focus on reconstruction and rebuilding, with engineers deployed from several public and private entities to assist with technical assessments of the damage to infrastructure and to advise on immediate and longer-term measures to repair and rebuild.
Ramaphosa said access to the key port of Durban had been restored through temporary repairs to the Bayhead Road.