ROLLING BLACKTRACK 2
Government scraps State of Disaster on energy, says existing laws will suffice to fight power crisis
The decision comes after the government conceded that a National State of Disaster was needed to augment existing measures to deal with the energy crisis.
The National State of Disaster on energy, which was declared just under two months ago, on 9 February, was terminated with immediate effect on Wednesday.
At about noon, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Thembi Nkadimeng said the State of Disaster was a “necessary response to the impact of critical levels of load shedding on the economy and vulnerable sectors such as health and small businesses”.
“Following the declaration of the State of Disaster in February, government adopted wide-ranging regulations which set out the responsibilities of the different organs of the state to mitigate the impact of severe load shedding, prevent the escalation of electricity supply constraints, and avert a national emergency,” she said.
The regulations had been put in place to support the Energy Action Plan and ensure an “effective and integrated” response across all spheres of government.
“A significant enabler of the improvement in the supply of electricity has been the appointment by President Cyril Ramaphosa of Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa as minister of electricity,” she added.
After announcing the expansion of his Cabinet to include a minister of electricity in early February, Ramaphosa appointed Ramokgopa to the position on 6 March, following his Cabinet rejig.
The scrapping of the State of Disaster comes on the back of Ramokgopa’s tour of all Eskom’s power stations, where he claimed the parastatal’s problems emanate from “technical problems”, not corruption.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Dear Minister Ramokgopa, here is a list of corruption cases impacting on Eskom
The termination of the National State of Disaster also came hot on the heels of Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s backtracking on National Treasury’s decision to exempt Eskom from declaring irregular and fruitless expenditure in its annual report and financial statements.
Former cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma had declared the National State of Disaster on energy on 9 February, in line with the provisions of the National Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002, citing the “magnitude, severity and progression of the severe electricity supply constraint”, and the need to “prevent the possible progression to a total blackout from occurring”.
That same day, Ramaphosa announced the declared national disaster, which began with immediate effect, in his State of the Nation Address (Sona).
That announcement followed calls for the electricity crisis to be declared a State of Disaster by a number of roleplayers, including traditional leaders, trade unions and community-based organisations, Daily Maverick’s Nonkululeko Njilo reported. An electricity National State of Disaster was also what the ANC’s lekgotla had resolved in January.
The ruling party welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement that a State of Disaster had been declared in a “decisive” Sona.
However, the State of Disaster raised concern across business, opposition parties and civil society, which were sceptical, given the extent of tender and procurement corruption during the Covid-19 State of Disaster. The DA announced it was heading to court over the declaration, while the EFF rejected it, saying a National State of Disaster was no silver bullet for the energy crisis.
In addition, questions were raised over how a State of Disaster would effectively contribute towards resolving the country’s 15-year energy crisis, given the availability of legislative routes for emergency funding and procurement regulatory relief, Daily Maverick’s Marianne Merten reported.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Dangerous and mad’ – Not everyone’s sold on Ramaphosa’s electricity minister and another State of Disaster
The disaster management regulations on electricity supply constraints were finally gazetted following a special Cabinet sitting on 27 February – more than a fortnight after Ramaphosa’s announcement.
On Wednesday, minister Nkadimeng said that following the termination of the State of Disaster, all regulations and directions on electricity supply constraints “are repealed with immediate effect”.
The government would continue to deal with the crisis using existing legislation.
“Government will, through the Energy Crisis Committee, continue to engage, cooperate and coordinate its actions to reduce and eradicate load shedding using existing legislation and contingency arrangements,” she said.
“These include measures already taken to protect critical infrastructure, facilitate emergency energy generation and protect consumers in terms of relevant competition law.”
Nkadimeng added that the range of interventions and support measures implemented by departments “as an accelerated response at the time the State of Disaster was declared will be sustained in terms of existing legislation”.
— NationalCoGTA 🇿🇦 (@NationalCoGTA) April 5, 2023
The announcement by the government came after the civil society group Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and trade union Solidarity said earlier on Wednesday morning that they had been informed by the state attorney that the government would be terminating the National State of Disaster on energy.
Outa had launched a legal challenge to have the State of Disaster reviewed and set aside after it was declared in February – calling the decision to declare the disaster “irrational, arbitrary and unlawful”. It believed the electricity shortage is a crisis, “but brought the case over concerns that the disaster regulations would be used to enable corruption, while existing law could be used to manage the crisis”, it said on Wednesday.
Solidarity launched a similar legal application to challenge the declaration.
Outa and Solidarity said they would now withdraw their court applications.
During a briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Nkadimeng, Ramokgopa and deputy Cogta Minister Parks Tau attempted to provide some clarity on the reasoning for the backtrack.
Nkadimeng said the government’s decision to terminate the State of Disaster is motivated by “the number of measures” introduced under the State of Disaster that have been able to assist in getting the government’s “systems and processes in place” to ensure that it is ready to deal with the crisis.
“If you would recall, the time at which a State of Disaster was declared, we were facing, as a country, escalating levels of electricity outages and these were for longer periods, on a more daily basis and required immediate interventions,” said Tau. South Africa was plunged into Stage 6 blackouts again in late January, and power cuts were reduced to stages 3 and 4 around 8 February – the day before the State of Disaster was declared. The country is currently on Stage 4 load shedding.
“We have determined that in fact, the mitigation measures in place are able to mitigate and continuously reduce the levels of load shedding as we’re experiencing,” he said.
Tau said that it was important for Cogta to be in continuous consultation with the Ministry of Electricity to determine whether “additional powers” were needed “to be able to execute your responsibilities”.
“The reality is, on the basis of that review, we have determined that you don’t need extraordinary measures to be able to intervene. We have determined that, in fact, [we’ve] got the measures in place to be able to intervene,” said Tau.
Tau also admitted that the litigation faced by the government over the State of Disaster, was also a factor in considering its termination.
“Of course, you look at litigation and you ask yourself: If we don’t need a State of Disaster, do we need to be in court?… It doesn’t make sense.” DM
This article was amended to include comments made during the media briefing on the termination of the National State of Disaster on Wednesday afternoon.