Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/PHILL MAGAKOE
Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/PHILL MAGAKOE

Administrative hitches which stood in the way of the government making payment for access to an international initiative to obtain vaccines have been overcome and payment should be made in the next few days, health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Friday.

The government has been criticised for failing to meet two deadlines for payment of R327m as a deposit for 15% of the required amount to the World Health Organisation’s Covax scheme which aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries get access to the vaccines.

The Solidarity Fund has committed to pay the deposit but financial guarantees from the government are also needed.

Addressing a media briefing along with members of the ministerial advisory committee Mkhize also announced the emergence of a new variant of the virus.

Regarding the perceived delay in paying the deposit, Mkhize said the problem had been in getting the forms for government guarantees aligned with those required. This had now been done, the guarantees had been signed by him and countersigned by Gavi (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations, an international alliance that is responsible for Covax) and it was expected that payment would be deposited in the next two to three days, he said.

Mkhize insisted that the delay had nothing to do with the principle of SA’s participation in Covax and denied that the government had been slow in taking action.

Earlier in the day DA leader John Steenhuisen criticised government for the delay in making the payment, and urged it to  be more transparent about its vaccination plans for the country, given the devastating toll the Covid-19 pandemic has had on human lives and the economy.

Undertakings were made by President Cyril Ramaphosa and finance minister Tito Mboweni that the deadline for payment would be met.

The DA plans to submit a complaint against Mboweni to parliament’s ethics committee for misleading parliament when he said the deadline would be met, and will be submitting an application to Mkhize under the Promotion of Access to Information Act to get details about the vaccine acquisition and rollout plan.

Steenhuisen said that citizens need to know how the vaccines will be acquired, when vaccination will begin, who will be prioritised, and how they will be rolled out. The briefing was also addressed by DA finance spokesperson Geordin Hill-Lewis and DA health spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube.

Steenhuisen referred to the statement made by Ramaphosa in an address to the nation that SA would receive vaccines to cover about 10% of the population in the early part of 2021 and that SA had concluded all the necessary processes to ensure SA’s participation in Covax.

“It is now incumbent on the government to square and level and play open cards with the people of SA. It needs to table a timeline, which very clearly sets out the processes followed to date. What we cannot continue with is this constant obfuscation by the government,” Steenhuisen said, adding that the failure to provide information has characterised the government’s response to the pandemic from the very beginning.

Hill-Lewis said Mboweni needs to provide details on when the deposit will be paid and guarantees provided. He also asked why the government is not committing R9.5bn to vaccinate 50% of the population instead of just less than 6-million people (10%). South Africans require full transparency about the agreements the government has signed to acquire the vaccines and the consequences of delays in payment, he said.

“It is clear to us that there is no credible plan for the vaccination of SA and this is a matter of serious concern,” Hill-Lewis said.

Hill-Lewis said he has written to Gavi to ask for details about the nature of SA’s participation in the programme and has also asked Mboweni parliamentary questions on this.

Gwarube said SA needs a vaccine rollout plan urgently, noting that other governments have been completely transparent about this and the SA government should be too. 

ensorl@businesslive.co.za

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