The office of the Presidency has responded sharply to a letter two high-profile advocates had written on the constitutional validity of the National Command Council (NCC), lambasting them for “putting in jeopardy measures taken to save South African lives”.
In a letter dated 5 May, director general in the presidency Dr Cassius Lubisi defended the establishment of the NCC, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, as a co-ordinated body established to facilitate work, and given authority by Cabinet.
“The president decided that in these exceptional times, careful coordination was needed between all those Cabinet members who have a role to play in the management of the disaster we face. To this end, Cabinet decided, at its meeting of March 15, that all those Cabinet members would form the collective that is the NCC,” Lubisi said.
This comes after advocates Nazeer Cassim SC and Erin-Dianne Richards wrote to Ramaphosa, saying they were concerned about the possible risks of constitutional and democratic malfunctioning.
This, they said, arose from what appeared to be the questionable establishment, structure and functions of the NCC, as well as the noticeable lack of transparency from the government about the body.
“The problem is that the NCC only consists of 19 ministers. That is not the entire national executive. Where are the remaining ministers? On its current composition, the NCC appears to us to constitute a centralisation of power that is impermissible under the Disaster Management Act,” the letter read.
The two threatened to take the matter to their ethical bodies for possible litigation, if the president failed to respond.
Seemingly taking umbrage, Lubisi explained that relevant ministers took decisions in terms of legislation assigned.
The DA has also questioned the work of the executive calling for National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise to set up an oversight committee over the executive during the lockdown. Modise rejected the request.
Lubisi said Cabinet has so far accounted to Parliament 17 times on relevant regulations.
“We invite your clients to constructive[ly] propose alternatives rather than threaten us with litigation. Their insistence on putting in jeopardy all measures taken to save South African lives and ensure security of public health is not commensurate in our respective view with their position as officers of the court,” the letter stated.
The exchange comes as Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma faces widespread criticism from citizens, politicians and interest groups after she announced that a ban on cigarette and tobacco sales would continue on 1 May, when the country moved to a Level 4 lockdown.
Some interest groups and analysts have questioned Ramaphosa’s authority.
The president initially announced that cigarettes would be sold until Cabinet overturned the decision.
Many on social media have criticised Dlamini-Zuma, accusing her of overruling Ramaphosa.
The matter has even led to an apology from eNCA news anchors Xoli Mngambi and Jane Dutton after they made the same assertion.