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DA health visits expose flaws in proposed NHI Bill

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Rorisang Kgosana


DA Chief Whip Natasha Mazzone. Photo: Twitter @Africansoil

The NHI Bill will resume on the agenda of the normal programme of parliament in the coming weeks as the portfolio committee of health resumes the legislative process.

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) national oversight tour to healthcare facilities uncovered severe staff shortages, lack of critical care hospital beds and Gauteng spending millions on procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) to companies that did not comply or failed to deliver a service.

This was a clear indication of the possible failure of the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) bill, the party said.

Giving feedback on the tour through a Zoom media briefing, DA chairperson Natasha Mazzone said while R5 billion was lost or misappropriated due to corruption and irregular tender processes, Gauteng province awarded millions of Rands worth of tenders irregularly.

According to Mazzone, R4.5 million was paid to companies that did not supply any goods; R5 million was paid for PPE without contracts put in place; R12 million worth of goods were delivered without purchase orders; R82 million worth of supplies were ordered with companies that are not registered on the National Treasury’s central supplier database and R239 million worth of PPE was ordered from companies that were not tax-compliant and with unverified bank accounts.

But this has further motivated the party to dismiss the proposed NHI bill, which would soon be deliberated in Parliament in the coming weeks.

“The DA contends that a compelling case has been made for the rejection of this [NHI] Bill in its current form by the weakness shown by our health system over the past six months since the outbreak of Covid-19. It is for that reason that we want to ensure that the legislative process is followed to the letter with no political pressure to rush this Bill for the sake of ANC political pressure,” she said.

The NHI Bill will resume on the agenda of the normal programme of parliament in the coming weeks as the portfolio committee of health resumes the legislative process. This after the NHI public hearings were concluded in February but the process was suspended as parliament moved to a new way of conducting its affairs due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The party has submitted a letter to committee chairperson Sibongiseni Dhlomo, chairperson of the committees in parliament Cedric Frolick and national assembly speaker Thandi Modise listing its “non-negotiables” for the process accompanied by a “fierce opposition” to the process being rushed.

The committee has so far heard and received 961 submissions from 11,500 attendees of the public hearings while parliament received over 64,000 written submissions, said DA shadow minister of health Siviwe Gwarube.

“The next phase of the legislative process is to process, hear and consider oral and written submissions from the various entities that have taken part in the process. 121 entities have indicated their intention to deliver oral submissions to parliament, a process that the committee now has to decide on. These include trade unions, hospital groups, medical schemes, academics and industry experts,” said Gwarube.

But the NHI proposal was merely “sweeping” the already unstable health system under the rug instead of repairing and improving healthcare management and leadership, said Alex van den Heever, an expert in health systems and economics.

Van den Heever said there was a lack of accountability in the healthcare system which was embedded with “patronage”.

“The problem there is that we don’t really have the right centred structures in the public health system and the only way to correct this is to change the accountability structure and remove political office bearers from becoming gatekeepers.

“Until that changes, what we see in most of the provinces will not change. The lack of response, the poor controls in place and the poor leadership is all contingent of the patronage model in governance. Until that changes, forget about NHI… It’s a non-starter. The Covid-19 crisis has revealed the failure of the patronage model of governance,” he said.