Confusion over decision-making powers of NCCC understandable, Dlamini-Zuma concedes

  • The National Coronavirus Command Council is not a decision-making body.
  • Ministers are responsible for their regulations.
  • This is contained in a responding affidavit by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in response to an application asking the court to declare the NCCC unconstitutional. 

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said given the numerous public statements that attributed government decisions to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), it was understandable there was confusion around it. 

She persisted in her argument the NCCC was not a decision-making body and did not take away the responsibility of relevant individual ministers to publish regulations or directives.

Dlamini-Zuma filed a responding affidavit in the case brought by Mpiyakhe Dlamini, Duwayne Esau, Tami Jackson, Lindo Khuzwayo, Mikhail Manuel, Neo Mkwane, Scott Roberts and Riaan Salie – who among other things – asked the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town to declare the NCCC inconsistent with the Constitution and Disaster Management Act.

“In light of numerous public statements incorrectly speaking of the NCCC taking decisions, this confusion is understandable,” she told the court. 

Dlamini-Zuma’s affidavit sheds further light on the functioning of the NCCC after President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed in an answer to a parliamentary reply it is was established as a committee of the Cabinet and all Cabinet members served on it.

Ramaphosa did not answer on which law he relied on for its establishment, merely stating it was established as a Cabinet committee, News24 reported on Wednesday.

Dlamini-Zuma’s affidavit corresponds with Ramaphosa’s reply that initially only 19 ministers served on the NCCC, but shortly after its establishment in mid-March as South Africa’s Covid-19 infections escalated, all Cabinet members were pulled into the command council.

“Although the whole of the Cabinet is now on the NCCC, it is not a decision-making body,” read her affidavit.

“Rather it co-ordinates, facilitates and implements the government’s response to Covid-19. The facilitation role includes enabling me, as the designated minister under the Disaster Management Act [DMA], to consult relevant ministers for the purposes of Section 27 of the DMA, and more generally.”

She stated many other ministers have statutory powers to issue regulations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The NCCC is a committee through which they are able to consult their relevant peers, and more generally on their respective department’s responses to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dlamini-Zuma said.

“None of this, however, should be understood to taking responsibility away from the relevant minister that is empowered to publish regulations or directives.”

Dlamini-Zuma added the NCCC relied on the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints) for support. NatJoints – co-chaired by the State Security Agency, defence force and police – is a standing committee that advises the Cabinet, usually on security matters. In response to the pandemic, the National Disaster Management Centre has been added to NatJoints.

She said the NCCC met three two to three times per week, and its meetings usually followed this format:

  • Health Minister Zweli Mkhize provides an update on the state of the virus, infections and deaths.
  • NatJoints reports on “various matters arising”.
  • Sometimes ministers are required to make presentations relating to their portfolios.
  • The reports and presentations are followed by debates and discussions.

Dlamini-Zuma added these debates and discussions have markedly improved “our collective response to the Covid-19 pandemic” and emphasised it was of a “high level”.

“Where decisions need to be taken after these discussions, such decisions are taken by the ministers responsible for them,” she said.”There is generally a seamless line between discussions that happen at the NCCC, and the decisions that ensue, and are taken by the Cabinet or the relevant minister.

READ | Govt’s coronavirus command council not established in terms of any act, Ramaphosa’s answers reveal

“In light of numerous public statements incorrectly speaking of the NCCC taking decisions, this confusion is understandable.”

She said the NCCC allowed ministers to obtain the buy-in of their colleagues and for consensus positions to be taken.

In the applicants’ replying affidavit, Esau argues Dlamini-Zuma’s explanation of the NCCC was “contradictory and internally inconsistent accounts of the command council that are not supported by papers before this court”.

The case will be heard on Monday.

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