Letter: Will the Covid-19 agencies stay on?

More than a year into the pandemic many South Africans have adjusted and there is a new sense of "normalcy" — or what can be accepted as "normal".

Two shadow agencies have informed and guided government policy during the pandemic; the national coronavirus command council (NCCC) and the national joint operational and intelligence structure (NatJoints).

Information on who sits on these structures has still not been publicised despite being charged with overseeing and advising on the application of Covid-19 regulations. The government has stated that all members of the cabinet are members of the NCCC, but there are no means to verify this. These bodies function like the black box of state.

Over the last year the government has also barred meaningful accountability checks from parliament and attempted to criminalise political gatherings and free speech. One could, at a very big reach,  justify these actions all in the name of protecting people. However, there has been no indication as to what role/position these bodies will play post-Covid-19.

An initial question that comes to mind is whether the NCCC and NatJoints will be formally disbanded after the pandemic. At some point this pandemic will end. Considering the power and authority these bodies wield, as well as their shadowy composition, there are no means for South Africans to acknowledge and recognise their disbandment. Due to the nature of the pandemic, will they be expected to also oversee post-Covid-19 transitionary policy?

The NCCC was able to dictate cigarette policy and lockdown levels in 2020 —  would it also have a say in our upcoming election regulations?

NatJoints and the NCCC occupy a unique position. They have created a model for disaster management in SA and raised questions regarding the limitation of state power and authority. However, based on this ever-increasing authority, will NatJoints and the NCCC be legally extended to function after the pandemic? And will our government be able to re-establish itself as an autonomous entity separate from these shadow agencies?

This letter was first published on BusinessDay on 10 May 2021.

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