Democratic Alliance (DA) has announced plans to introduce the Draft Disaster Management Bill, which aims to change South Africa’s laws around how a state of disaster is handled.
The private member’s bill specifically takes aims at the government’s use of a state of disaster to deal with the Covid-19 lockdown and the fact that it can perpetually extend a state of disaster without any oversight.
"It may be argued that the scope of the minister’s powers under a national state of disaster are necessary to enable the national executive to deal effectively with phenomena such as the Covid-19 pandemic, but save for the requirement of publication, the act does not provide for any formal procedural constraints on how these powers are to be exercised," the DA said.
"The risks so created for the abuse of state power resemble the risks that have historically been associated with a state of emergency."
It added that unlike the State of Emergency Act which was introduced in 1997, the current Disaster Management Act does not allow parliament to review the extension of a national state of disaster.
The DA’s proposed Disaster Management Amendment Bill aims to change this by establishing similar parliamentary supervision over national states of disaster.
In this way, it will also act as a 'bulwark' against executive encroachment on the legislative authority of parliament, it said.
"The draft bill therefore seeks to subject the wide-ranging powers of the Minister to declare and extend a national state of disaster, and to make subordinate legislation pursuant to such a declaration, subject to parliamentary supervision.
"The draft Bill also seeks to limit the initial period a national state of disaster can be declared to the same 21-day limit that our law currently places on a state of emergency, the latter resembling the former in key respects."
On 10 February president Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet announced the extension of South Africa’s national state of disaster by a further month.
The country’s state of disaster will continue until 15 March 2021.
The latest extension is notable as it will be a full year since the state of disaster was first introduced in March 2020.
South Africa declared a national state of disaster under Section 27(1) and Section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act on 15 March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
While the state of disaster was originally set to lapse on 15 June 2020, the act provides that it can be extended by the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) minister by notice in the gazette for one month at a time before it lapses.
Government has relied on the state of disaster to introduce and give effect to lockdown restrictions, which it has used to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, it has also faced criticism for giving national government wide-ranging powers over the lives of citizens, with almost no limits, and little to no oversight from parliament.