Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) has called for written comments on the Disaster Management Amendment Bill, which plans major changes for South Africa’ state of disaster regulations and the country’s Covid-19 lockdown rules.
South Africa declared a national state of disaster on 15 March 2020 in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, while it was set to lapse on 15 June 2020 the act provides that it can be extended by the Cogta minister by notice in the gazette for one month at a time before it lapses.
The state of disaster enables the government to introduce and give effect to lockdown restrictions, which helps curb the spread of Covid-19, however many criticize it as giving the national government wide-ranging powers over citizens with almost no limits or oversight from parliament.
The amendment bill acknowledges this problem and the fact that the Disaster Management Act doesn’t currently provide adequate legislative accountability and oversight of the regulations published in terms of it, the duration of the state of the disaster or the extension of the state of disaster.
The memorandum of the bill states, “In a constitutional democracy, any legislation, which has such severe consequences and which impacts all the citizens and their human rights, should be subject to more legislative accountability and oversight”.
The key changes proposed in the new bill include:
- A national state of disaster may be effective only ‘prospectively’ (going forward) and for no more than 21 days, unless the National Assembly resolves otherwise.
- A minister may terminate a national state of disaster before it lapses.
- A copy of the notice declaring a national state of disaster must be tabled in the National Assembly, and the National Assembly may disapprove of any regulations or directions made under such a declaration or may make recommendations to the Minister pertaining to such regulations and directions.
- Only the National Assembly, a provincial legislature or a municipal council may resolve to extend a declaration of a national, provincial or local state of disaster respectively and for how long.
- The Bill also provides for the requisite majorities required in the National Assembly, provincial legislature and municipal council to extend a national, provincial or local state of disaster, respectively.
- A resolution to extend a national, provincial or local state of disaster may only be adopted after a public debate.
These changes to the state of disaster were suggested by the Freedom Front Plus and are still at the start of the process. The amendments will have to work their way through the portfolio committee, National Assembly, select committees and the National Council of Provinces before being sent to the president for assent.
Comments and public participation processes will also take place with the opportunity to have the proposals challenged at every step.
Sources: Business Tech
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