The Democratic Alliance says it will not retract or apologise for a statement in which it accused the Department of Health of having suggested that National Treasury caused delays in Covid-19 vaccine procurement.
In a statement, DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis told the department to stop the “back-pedalling” and “blame shifting” and immediately deliver the vaccine.
“We can only conclude that the attempt by the DoH [Department of Health] to shift blame has been met with an angry response from Treasury, and they are now trying to back-pedal.
“We do not care about the petty intrigues of Cabinet squabbles. What we do care about is government’s unforgivable failure to secure a supply of vaccines for South Africa, and the lives this will cost. This delay, dithering and blame-shifting would not happen under a DA government,” said Hill-Lewis.
The department called on the DA to retract and apologise for its statement, and accused the DA of incorrectly and “perhaps purposefully misrepresenting” comments made by the department’s deputy director-general Dr Anban Pillay in a recent interview published in the Financial Mail.
He was quoted as saying: “The first problem is that many manufactures simply could not pinpoint a delivery date. That was a big challenge, as Treasury would have had to invest billions with nothing to show for it upfront.”
This statement, according to the DA, suggested that Treasury was not convinced that vaccines were necessary, that spending on vaccines would “waste money”, and that the “big challenge” was “risk aversion in the Treasury”.
The party called on Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to confirm or deny Pillay’s comments.
But the department says he was misrepresented.
“This is an extremely mischievous distortion of facts and we demand that the DA both retract and apologise for their statement.
“Dr Pillay did not suggest that the National Treasury delayed South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine acquisition,” department spokesperson Popo Maja said in a statement.
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Meanwhile, the party has announced legal action to force government to disclose all details pertaining to its vaccine roll-out strategy, and abolish the centralisation of vaccine acquisition.
“The government has failed to prepare properly for a national vaccine rollout. For months during late 2020, while other developing countries were securing vaccine orders, our government was seemingly sitting on its hands. This failure will undoubtedly cost lives.”
Compiled by Vhahangwele Nemakonde