President Cyril Ramaphosa says the main task of the post-COVID-19 landscape is to create employment, adding that current jobs should also be protected. Ramaphosa was addressing a hybrid sitting of the National Assembly in his first virtual oral reply session on Thursday.
The President has reiterated that the post-COVID-19 economic landscape is equivalent to what he calls a post-war economic state. “So we have to do the extraordinary. And we will do this by embarking on a number of initiatives that will be aimed at creating jobs. And some of those will be expanding public employment, increasing investment in public infrastructure and services and enabling greater job creation.”
Ramaphosa says the government was preparing a zero-based budget as an emergency measure in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zero-based budgeting is a method of budgeting in which income minus expenses equals zero. Every function is analysed for its needs and costs.
“Our budgeting processes also need to be looked at, our minister of finance is going to be coming to the house to present an emergency budget and its a reset of the budget that was presented and going forward we are already looking at starting from point zero, a zero-based budgeting process is now going to be heralded. It is going to be the new order of the day.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa answers questions from Members of Parliament:
‘Lockdown necessary to avoid explosive growth of infections’
Responding to oral questions, the President insists that the national lockdown was necessary to avoid an explosive growth of COVID-19 infections. He says when the decision to implement a lockdown was made, there were already 274 COVID-19 cases in the country.
At that point, scientists estimated that South Africa already had over 1000 cases, he explains, saying many of them were not identified at that stage due to limited screening and stringent testing criteria.
“By the time I announced the lockdown on Monday the 23rd of March, the number of confirmed cases has risen to 402 and by the time the lockdown took effect on Friday the 27th of March, there were already 1 170 cases. In other words, we had seen an explosion.
“A prolonged delay in implementing stringent measures would have meant that South Africa would have missed a window of opportunity to achieve a significant flattening of the curve. This could have led to a runaway epidemic with potentially catastrophic consequences to our health care services,” the President says.
One of the critical questions the President had to answer was from the leader of the Official Opposition, John Steenhuisen, who was critical of another bailout for the national airline, SAA.
“Yesterday we heard that we are going to spend R30 billion on South African Airways to save a thousand jobs. Mr President, the question to you is this: Will you today make a brave stand and stand with the three million South Africans who are going to lose their jobs and oppose the 33 billion bailout or are you going to see that money being poured into the airbus of a state-owned entity like South African Airways. It could have been used to save the lives of livelihoods of millions of more South Africans.”
Ramaphosa answers: “You talk about South African Airways. The Business rescue practitioners are coming forward with a plan which we are going to discuss. We are going to discuss precisely what they are proposing. I appointed an inter-ministerial committee which has been dealing with what the business practitioners have put forward and we are going to interrogate precisely what they are proposing.”
Easing of regulations
EFF leader Julius Malema says he is not convinced that President Ramaphosa used scientific evidence to ease the lockdown regulations. Malema says the President’s decision to ease the regulations were meant to put profits of big business above the lives of the people.
“We are more than convinced that you are actually no following any scientific advice. If anything,- we are being bullied by big capital which maximises profit at all costs. Because what type of scientific advice will advise that the president of a country should address or answer questions in Parliament sitting in his home next to a fireplace and allow children to go to schools. You are sitting comfortably in your own home as a leader who follows science and your science says take children to schools to go and fight this pandemic while all of us are in the comfort of own homes,” Malema says.
Ramaphosa says, “Many parts of the world did not do what we did. Our lockdown was hard. We will concede that we went on to restrict things that other countries did not restrict like alcohol and cigarettes, like the buying and selling of a number of items. But we knew that with time we were not going to be able to keep with the lockdown forever because it is impossible to lock any country down forever; and then we say many other countries around the world are having to deal with the challenges we are having to deal with. Others eased their lockdowns. Some did not lockdown that we did and they have paid the price for it and we have been well advised to what we are doing on a gradual basis with the necessary advice.”