Opinion Piece – By Patrick O’Leary, Managing Editor, FleetWatch
In a statement released after the Cabinet held a virtual Special Meeting on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 to discuss the progress report from the National Coronavirus Command Council, it was announced that Cabinet approved the setting up of an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Vaccination to assist with the quick decision-making from all the relevant departments that contribute towards the smooth roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
This followed a briefing to the Cabinet on the national COVID-19 Vaccine Roll-out Programme. As the statement pointed out: “The vaccination programme is the key intervention to mitigate the public health and economic impact of the COVID 19 pandemic. The roll out programme entails procurement, distribution, actual vaccination, monitoring, communication and mobilisation.”
The IMC, to be chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza, will meet weekly to receive reports and intervene in unlocking any challenges that may be encountered during the implementation. President Cyril Ramaphosa will chair its first inaugural meeting.
And here’s my problem. Members of the IMC have been announced as: The Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize; Minister of Finance, Mr Tito Mboweni; Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma; Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula; Minister of Police, General Bheki Cele; Minister of State Security, Ms Ayanda Dlodlo; Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande; Minister of Public Enterprises, Mr Pravin Gordhan; Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi; Minister of Public Service and Administration, Mr Senzo Mchunu; Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Mr Ebrahim Patel; Minister of Social Development, Ms Lindiwe Zulu and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor.
I must mention that Jackson Mthembu, Minister in the Presidency, was also named as a member of the IMC but sadly, he passed away from Covid on January 21, 2021. May be RIP.
So where is the Minister of Transport in all this? I’m not blaming the Minister for not being there as the members mentioned above were obviously appointed by someone – but whoever that ‘someone’ is didn’t consider the transport and distribution of vaccines to be of such importance that it requires the highest ministerial representation on a body whose task it is to “assist with the quick decision-making from all the relevant departments that contribute towards the smooth roll-out of the vaccination programme.”
Yes, we have heard that arrangements have been made with the Biovac Institute to use their distribution structures for the initial distribution of the vaccines – but will this be enough.
Vaccines – wherever they come from (but that’s another story) – are going to require the highest level of supply chain and transport professionals to deal with their storage and distribution. Different vaccines need to be kept at different temperatures and maintaining the correct temperature all along the supply chain is a giant task in itself – and one that I would not leave to just anyone.
The Biovac Institute has the experience gained from many years of distributing vaccines with their web site stating “that over 15 million doses of vaccines are delivered a year via our cold and supply chain infrastructure to ensure that the quality of the vaccines at the point of use is guaranteed.” That’s 15-million a year but those are not the Covod-19 vaccines. Those will add to their activities.
The point remains that with the distribution of vaccines being critical to the roll-out programme, the transport industry should have the highest form of representation on the IMC. So why was the Minister of Transport left out? It beggars belief.
Even the Minister of Transport will be way out of his depth on this. However, if he opens his door and listens to the people in the know, at least he can feed that information into the IMC. As it stands, there is no supply chain or transport knowledge or representation on that IMC and that scares the daylights out of me.
I think back to the distribution of school books – an easy task when left in the hands of supply chain and transport experts – but one that was totally bungled when handled by Government departments. And that’s not me ‘Government bashing’ for the sake of it. It’s a fact. Many schools around the country were left without books for months after they should have been delivered.
So President Cyril Ramaphosa, since you are chairing the first inaugural meeting of the IMC, please may I respectfully ask that you bring another chair into the virtual room for Mr Fikile Mbalula to occupy. And to Minister Mbalula, please don’t occupy that chair on your own. The industry is here to help and I’m sure you’ll agree that the storage, transport and distribution of vaccines is a highly specialised task. There can be no mistakes on this one. The transport and distribution of masks and sanitisers will seem like a walk in the park when compared to this task. Let’s not blow it.