Parliament’s portfolio committee on health expressed its “disappointment” on Wednesday after KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu failed to attend a Covid-19 update meeting.
“The provincial department [of health] was meant to give the committee the province’s response on Covid-19. She came and tendered an apology because she had other commitments,” parliamentary media officer Yoliswa Landu told African News Agency (ANA).
“The department still made a presentation, but what the committee wanted was the MEC to be part of the meeting so when they pose questions she will be able to respond,” Landu added.
The committee said earlier in the day via an emailed statement that Simelane-Zulu “knew about the meeting and did not formally write to the committee to indicate that she would not be available”.
The matter would be reported to the speaker of parliament and house chairperson, said the committee.
Pressure is mounting on Simelane-Zulu and her department’s handling of the provincial Covid-19 outbreak – now in its surge phase – with the Public Protector (PP) also confirming on Wednesday that the MEC was being investigated for an alleged breach of the executive ethics code.
Spokesperson for the office of the Public Protector, Oupa Segalwe, confirmed the probe, telling ANA: “The Public Protector is looking into the complaint that the MEC breached the Executive Code of Ethics by allegedly refusing to release COVID-19 statistics to the public.”
The Democratic Alliance (DA) in KwaZulu-Natal applauded the move to investigate Zulu.
“We’ve been asking for the localised information (municipalities and sub districts) and the hot spot information since March, since the beginning of the lockdown,” Dr Rishigen Viranna, DA KZN spokesperson on health, told ANA.
“For example, the eThekwini region has around three million people, releasing information on such a broad level doesn’t really help people. That’s not enough to get the behaviour change we need in the public,” he said.
He said the request for the information was merely a reiteration of what had been said by the World Health Organization (WHO) and chairperson of the South African Medical Advisory Committee (MAC), professor Abdul Salim Karim, who had emphasised the importance of information sharing.
Viranna said that KZN premier, Sihle Zikalala, and Simelane-Zulu had access to the information, but it remained unknown to the public.
“According to the PP’s correspondence, Premier Zikalala has been informed that his MEC is under investigation. MEC Simelane-Zulu must now account for her ongoing failure to fully release this critical information,” he added.
Spokesperson for the provincial health department, Agiza Hlongwane, told ANA: “There are reasons why the information is being released the way it is”.