The health ministry has rejected the DA’s claims that it was blocked from performing an oversight visit on coronavirus screenings on travellers arriving at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg as “sensational” and “mischievous”.
On Monday, DA MP Siviwe Gwarube said she was unable to carry out her oversight visit after being blocked by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
“The Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has demonstrated complete disdain for accountability and has abused his executive power to block an oversight visit by the Democratic Alliance (DA) to the international arrivals area at OR Tambo International airport where Covid-19 screening is done as travelers arrive in the country,” Gwarube said in a statement on Monday.
According to the party, the purpose of the visit was to get an understanding of the screening protocols in place, who are identified for screening, the equipment used and its effectiveness.
“As a member of the portfolio committee on health, this is useful information to ensure that the people who go through the largest port of entry in the country are screened sufficiently,” Gwarube said.
According to Gwarube, she personally notified the Airports Company South Africa CEO of her intention last week not as a prerequisite, but as a courtesy.
The MP was allegedly told that this type of request needed approval from the health minister.
“Despite the fact that I do not need permission from the minister, I attempted to reach him to discuss this issue and he made himself unavailable but issued instructions to block me,” she said.
“Blocking members of the parliament from doing their work, is simply bullying and arrogance and has no place in a constitutional democracy.”
As a result, Gwarube said she will ask the DA to write to the leader of government business, Deputy President David Mabuza, to seek urgent intervention on the issue.
In response, the health ministry said Mkhize had received many requests and had directed them to the chairperson of the portfolio committee Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo to assist him in coordinating a group visit for all MPs who are interested.
“This is meant to avoid piecemeal inspections that may disrupt the day-to-day operations.
“Especially taking into account that Port Health staff are not only processing large numbers of inbound travelers but are now required to be more vigilant in conducting inspections inside aircraft on arrival, analyse the questionnaires filled out by every passenger to assess the risk and conduct temperature screening of each and every passenger on board even before they disembark,” ministry spokesperson Dr Lwazi Manzi said in a statement.
The health ministry accused the DA of being opportunistic and creating havoc and confusion during a sensitive period.
“The DA must decide whether it will use its energies to grandstand and score cheap political points or work together with the Department of Health and government as a whole to ensure that South Africa is safe,” Manzi said.
She said all political parties who wish to fulfill their oversight role will be advised of the date of the visit that is being arranged through the chairperson of the health portfolio committee and the health department.