DA gives government until 5pm to back down on ‘race-based’ Covid-19 support
CITIZEN - BUSINESS NEWS / 29 APRIL 2020 - 12.29 / CITIZEN REPORTER
The opposition plans to approach the high court if they don’t get a ‘satisfactory answer’ on how applications from SMMEs will be evaluated and supported in terms of B-BBEE.
The DA said in a statement on Wednesday that it had given the minister for small business development, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, until 5pm to clarify her statements about the use of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) for the disbursement of government’s SMME Debt Relief Fund.
Minister of Small Business Development, Khumudzo Ntshavheni during the swearing in of the new Presidential Cabinet at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria, 30 May 2019. Picture: Jacques Nelles
DA leader John Steenhuisen said: “If she does not respond satisfactorily by this deadline, the DA will take legal steps to ensure that all South Africans are treated equally in qualifying for government’s Covid-19 relief measures.”
The party and other bodies such as AfriForum have accused the minister of inconsistency, especially after she made an apparent about-turn yesterday on the matter during a joint meeting of the Portfolio and Select Committees for Small Business Development.
“Upon being questioned by DA MP Tim Brauteseth, she confirmed that all applications to the SMME Debt Relief Fund would be evaluated using B-BBEE principles,” said Steenhuisen.
Earlier, similar selective, race-based relief criteria had been announced for both the tourism and agriculture sectors.
The DA pointed out that on 24 March Ntshavheni and her department had dismissed reports of race-based Covid relief for SMMEs as “fake news” following a leaked document indicating this requirement.
“However it soon became clear that the document was not fake, and was confirmed to have been an earlier draft of the department’s proposed regulations. The department quickly assured South Africans that all applicants would be considered equally, regardless of race.”
Steenhuisen said the minister’s change of position made “a mockery of government’s SMME relief measures, and is an insult to thousands of struggling small business owners who not only contribute hundreds of millions of rands in tax revenue, but who also employ thousands of people who now stand to lose their jobs, many of whom are black”.
He added that it also made a mockery of the president’s appeal for unity in the fight to overcome the pandemic and its economic effects.
“These ministers who are intent on excluding South Africans from emergency relief measures because of the colour of their skin represent President Ramaphosa and his government. Unless he calls them to order and reverses this decision, it must be understood that this is indeed his position too. South Africans need to know where he stands on this.”
The DA’s lawyers wrote to Ntshavheni on 10 April for clarification on whether the race of business owners and their employees was relevant to the distribution of funds, as this information was required on the application form on the department’s website.
She never responded.
The party has now asked for the following questions to be answered by 5pm:
In terms of what law or policy is race considered in the evaluation of applications?
What role does race play in evaluating applications for relief?
“If we do not receive a satisfactory answer by this deadline, the DA will approach the high court for appropriate, urgent relief to prevent the unlawful use of race in relation to Covid-19 funds, and unfair discrimination on the basis of race.”
(Edited by Charles Cilliers)
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