Ministers are held to account, Ramaphosa tells lawyers who question command council
No rules exist to direct the cabinet on how to organise its work to ensure the best possible co-ordination of its members and the ideal means to fulfil their functions.
This is the reply the presidency gave to two advocates who had expressed concern about the "questionable establishment, structure and functions" of the national command council (NCC) on the coronavirus, as well as the noticeable lack of transparency from the government about the body.
In a reply to the lawyers, director-general in the presidency Cassius Lubisi on Monday said cabinet members were accountable collectively and individually to parliament for the exercise of their powers and performance of their functions.
Lubisi said President Cyril Ramaphosa assigned administration of legislation and powers or functions entrusted by legislation to other members of the cabinet in terms of the constitution.
He said: "No rules exist to direct the cabinet on how it organises its work to ensure the best possible co-ordination of its members and ideal means of fulfilling their functions."
Lubisi said the cabinet made these choices, for example in the creation of clusters such as the economic cluster.
Lubisi said the administration and functions of the Disaster Management Act were assigned to the cabinet member responsible for co-operative governance, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Lubisi said Dlamini-Zuma issued the regulations in terms of section 27 of the act.
"Nothing in the act deprives other cabinet members of their assigned powers and functions, and they have been acting accordingly.
"Where regulations or directives issued during this difficult period required their authority, they fulfilled the task as required by relevant legislation. For example, the minister of transport is responsible for the management of our airports, and the minister of home affairs for the rights of entry of travellers. They issued relevant directives in this regard."
Lubisi said the president decided that, in these exceptional times, careful co-ordination was needed between all those cabinet members who have a role to play in the coronavirus disaster.
"To this end cabinet decided, at its meeting on March 15 2020, that all those cabinet members would form the collective that is the NCC."
He said this was a co-ordinating body, just as other cabinet structures were, established to facilitate the work of the relevant cabinet members and cabinet as a whole, and were given the authority by the cabinet to do that.
Regarding accountability to parliament, Lubisi said health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize reported to the portfolio committee on health on April 10.
"Since April 21, ministers have been accounting in public to parliament at relevant portfolio committees.
"It is on that date parliament decided to resume its work, a decision over which neither the presidency nor any other member of cabinet had control."
Lubisi said that, so far, 17 such briefings had taken place, as was apparent from the publicly available parliamentary programme.