News in South Africa 21st September:

1. UK red list questioned:

South Africa’s continued presence on the UK’s red list for travel has been questioned by several experts and business leaders, saying it makes no sense.

UK red list questioned
Image taken by: Anna Shvets

According to the UK High Commission in Pretoria, the country is being kept on the red list over concerns of the beta variant (i.e., the ‘South African variant’) of Covid-19 in the country.

Communication between scientists in South Africa and those in the United Kingdom could hopefully lead to the country’s red-listing being lifted soon.

This according to Acting UK High Commissioner to South Africa Adam Bye.

He said the UK government welcomes scientific collaboration and conversations between the High Commission and our Department of Health have already been held.

“We have already made clear to the South African government that we would welcome a discussion between our scientific experts and will work with them to have that discussion as soon as is practical,” he said.

“Both our countries have high amounts of scientific expertise. You know, South Africa has very advance genomic sequencing so I think that sort of discussion would be really rewarding to make sure there’s as much as possible of a shared understanding between us.

2. Pfizer vaccine safe for children:

The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine was safe and generated a promising immune response in a trial in kids ages five to 11, the drugmakers said Monday in a press release.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they plan to submit the data to the Food and Drug Administration and international drugs regulators “as soon as possible.” That could make their Covid-19 shot the first authorised for younger children.

The two-dose vaccine is currently OK’d for children as young as 12 in the US. Public-health leaders – and countless parents – have been clamoring for vaccines to expand into younger populations, particularly as Covid-19 cases among children have increased in recent months.

Research in even younger children is ongoing, with Pfizer and BioNTech expecting results down to 6-month-old infants before year’s end.

“Since July, pediatric cases of Covid-19 have risen by about 240% in the US – underscoring the public health need for vaccination,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

Once Pfizer and BioNTech submit their data to regulators, pressure will shift to the FDA to act quickly. While drug and vaccine reviews typically take nine to 12 months, the agency has prioritised assessing the Covid-19 vaccines. It took the FDA one month to expand Pfizer’s vaccine to 12- to 15-year-olds in May, for instance.

It’s unclear how quickly the FDA could act on this expansion into even younger children. Pfizer has previously indicated it expects the FDA could authorise the shot to be used in younger kids before the end of October.

Pfizer and BioNTech are seeking give the immunisation as two smaller, 10-microgram dose in this younger age group. For adults and children 12 years and older, the vaccine is given as two 30-microgram doses.

In the study, Pfizer and BioNTech tested this smaller dose on 2,268 children who were 5 to 11 years old. Their immune responses to the vaccine, measured by the level of virus-fighting antibodies in their blood, was similar to a group of 16- to 25-year-olds who received the standard 30-microgram dose.

3. More PPE corruption found:

Questions have been raised around yet another case where an unknown company with no track record in the field scoring from government contracts to supply PPEs to the SAPS.

Red Roses Africa (Pty) Ltd supplied the personal protective equipment at what is difficult not to describe as criminally inflated prices – R515m – and yet no one appears to be investigating.

A small, unknown company operating under two names, with a Barberton, Mpumalanga, business address, no traceable history of supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) products and a sole director (with an underwhelming online presence) scored contracts worth hundreds of millions of rands from the police at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year. Not only did it score the questionable contracts, it also managed to get R515-million paid for supplying masks and hand sanitiser and disinfectant at what is difficult not to describe as criminally inflated prices. 

These and other details were revealed on the National Treasury’s dashboard on the government’s Covid-19 specific expenditure which records the companies that have benefitted from tenders and the amounts government departments paid them. 

However, there has been some confusion as the Treasury published and republished altered information as reporters sent persistent, and probing, questions pointing out anomalies. Until last Thursday, 16 September, according to the Treasury dashboard, the second- and third-largest payments for SA Police Service PPE were to two companies, Red Roses Africa (Pty) Ltd and Mainstreet 699. Each payment was for R515-million. It has since been established via various channels that Red Roses Africa and Mainstreet 699 are the same company. 

These huge amounts and the continued confusion sparked an investigation by reporters. 

The Treasury’s media department stated that Red Roses Africa “has done business with the SAPS for Covid-19-related expenditure”, but would not answer questions about the nature of this business. Instead, they advised reporters to “contact the SAPS and the Supplier for more details”.

However, when no record of Mainstreet 699 on the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) database was discovered, reporters alerted the Treasury with a further set of questions. The Treasury ignored them, but then last Thursday, in an apparent attempt to re-engineer Treasury data, Mainstreet 699 suddenly disappeared without explanation from the list of top payments on the dashboard – even though the total amount paid to all companies – R16.304-billion – remained unaltered. 

4. SARS broadening taxpayer base:

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is focused on collecting the ‘lowest hanging fruit’ to help close South Africa’s tax gap, including increased compliance and broadening the taxpayer base, says commissioner Edward Kieswetter.

“Our position as SARS is that the lowest hanging fruit is still collecting the taxes that are due, closing the tax gap and broadening the base,” he said, addressing the national tax indaba on Monday (20 September).

Kieswetter said that the revenue collector’s focus on ‘easy wins’ does not mean that there is no scope for new policy initiatives, however. “These can never be taken off the table. There is still too much inequity in the world and too many practices that favour large corporates and the wealthy,” he said.

Kieswetter said that some of the policies which had previously been mooted include:

  • The introduction of taxation of the digitalisation of the economy;
  • The global discussion around a minimum corporate tax;
  • The ongoing discussion about placing wealth taxes back on the table.

“While some of you may say that these are knee-jerk reactions, they are reactions to the reality of the levels of abuse of the tax system that still exists. So these (policies) can never be taken off the table.

“But in South Africa, we believe that there is still so much that can be harvested from the taxes that are due, and the rebuilding of SARS is essential.”

5. IEC hollow victory:

While the IEC pats itself on the back for processing 1.7 million voter registrations over the weekend, analysts point out that the numbers are far from a grand success, with only about 430,000 registrations being new voters.

When combined with previous reports from the IEC that the voter’s roll declined by 1.1 million people, it would appear that the 2021 elections will have 650,000 fewer voters than in 2016.

Analysts say the low numbers could reflect an even lower turnout on voting day – driven by general voter apathy, concern over the pandemic, or failure by political parties to deliver on promises.

All information sourced from articles posted by: ENCA, Business Insider, Daily Maverick, BusinessTech, and News24.

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