News in South Africa 14th May:
1. Powership tender rigged:
Allegations are being made left, right and centre around the use of Turkish-made power ships, and the R255 billion contract scored by the one company who owns them.
When Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe announced preferred bidders in March, three of the eight preferred projects belonged to Karpowership, supplying 1 220 of the 2 000MW on offer. The projects involve five powerships being moored in Coega, Richards Bay and Saldanha.
Perhaps most problematically Mantashe’s department, which ran the tender, permitted temporary leases of second-hand ships to qualify as “greenfield projects” and magically meet a 40% local content threshold during “construction” despite the fact they are foreign-built.
Some in the renewable energy sector felt the RMI4P rules were rigged from the outset in favour of gas.
Participants’ confusion and exasperation were captured in periodic briefing notes the department issued throughout the tender process to answer questions, and to announce frequent changes to the rules themselves.
As the tender unfolded, some came to believe that the process was being “led” to favour just one company: “The signs of blatant tampering are everywhere,” an anonymous insider who worked on the tender told us.
And then there were those, like rival gas bidder DNG Energy, who saw “undue influence” in every stage – from how the tender was “conceptualised, researched and published”, to the concessions made as deadlines drew near.
These changes were “orchestrated … by third parties”, DNG chief executive Aldworth Mbalati alleged in an affidavit filed in court last month, “in an effort to … ‘stack the cards’ in favour of certain bidders”.
The ultimate price is impossible to predict with certainty as Karpowership’s tariffs hinge on international gas prices paid for in forex, and which will simply be a “pass-through” to Eskom and the electricity-using public.
The estimated R225-billion price tag could cost about the same as building the Medupi power station but leave zero investment on the ground and export most of the earnings via gas purchases – and ship leasing costs and dividends to Karpowership’s offshore parent.
2.Vaccine production restarted:
South African-born pharmaceutical billionaire Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong has committed R3 billion to help South Africa produce vaccines against Covid-19 and other illnesses.
During a meeting organised by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday, Soon-Shiong said his family foundation and company would bring the necessary technical knowledge and other capacity to South Africa to start producing vaccines here.
According to Forbes, the 68-year-old Soon-Shiong made part of his personal $6.8 billion fortune after inventing the pancreatic cancer drug Abraxane. He now owns NantWorks, a network of health startups, and has a stake in the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. He also owns the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Tribune newspapers.
He said that his commitment, as “a South African-born Asian American”, is to assist South Africa in producing vaccines.
Over the past year, he spoke directly to “fellow South Africans” such as Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), which coordinates the genetic virus research in South Africa, as well as Professor Glenda Gray, head of the SA Medical Research Council, and government officials.
Soon-Shiong said he hoped that new technologies won’t only help with Covid-19, but also with other diseases in Africa, including HIV and cancer.
3. Health department budget:
Health minister Zweli Mkhize’s R62.5bn budget was met with mixed reaction on Thursday, with some MPs welcoming it while others outright rejected it.
Mkhize tabled the budget vote for the 2021/22 financial year, telling parliament R9bn was allocated to fighting the Covid-19 outbreak. He also revealed several health services had been affected by the reprioritisation of the resources to fight the coronavirus.
Debating Mkhize’s budget ANC MP Sibongiseni Dhlomo welcomed the “not so perfect” budget, which was riddled with serious flaws.
Dhlomo, who chairs parliament’s portfolio committee on health, said: “Your annual performance plan may not be realised because of the budget cuts, and that is our concern. Hence we have resolved as the portfolio committee of health to write a letter to the minister of finance [Tito Mboweni], and we await his response.”
He said the committee sought a meeting with Mboweni to discuss how the Treasury could assist the department meet its targets despite the budget cuts.
4. Elderly to be vaccinated:
Next Monday, South Africa will enter a critical phase of its Covid-19 vaccine rollout as the elderly and people with comorbidities will start getting jabs even if they are not healthcare workers.
But there is still a lot of hesitation, and detailed accounts of what exactly will transpire from next Monday have been sketchy. Now the deputy director-general for the National Department of Health (DOH), Anban Pillay, and Business for SA (B4SA) Working Group have given more information on what the general public can expect.
B4SA earlier pledged to mobilise the private sector to help boost vaccination efforts.
Government plans to vaccinate 16.6 million people over a six-month period under phase two. This will run in parallel with the vaccination of about 300 000 remaining healthcare workers who have not been vaccinated under phase one. Phase one, which was exclusively aimed at reaching 500 000 healthcare workers, will conclude on Friday.
Phase two will not only vaccinate the elderly and those with comorbidities, but Pillay said the government will also identify high-risk worker categories – the essential workers – vaccinating people over the age of 40 in those jobs.
An updated list of active Covid-19 vaccination sites in South Africa has been released by the Department of Health ahead of Phase 2 of the planned rollout which is due to begin on Monday 17 May.
Although South Africa has ordered enough doses from both Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer to exceed the needs for herd immunity, the limited number of vaccination sites and lack of collaboration with the private sector continues to subdue the country’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
It’s against this backdrop and a renewed sense of urgency that Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the programme – which aims to vaccinate 16.6 million people – will run concurrently from 17 May.
5. Ace apology deadline today:
Suspended ANC secretary general Ace Magashule has until the end of business today to apologise for attacking and attempting to suspend president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Magashule made the attempt after Ramaphosa got the support of the NEC and NWC to suspend Magashule, after he refused to step aside from his role voluntarily over his corruption charges.
The ANC NEC again backed Ramaphosa, when it said that Magashule should apologise, or face further disciplinary action from the party. Magashule has remained defiant, and has served the ANC with court papers challenging the step-aside rule.