Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: GCIS
Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: GCIS

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has defended the government’s approach to crafting the contentious National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, which is to be tabled in the cabinet next week.

The bill is a vital step in achieving the government’s ambitions of providing universal health coverage, as it paves the way for a central fund that will be used to purchase services on behalf of patients. The government has promised that NHI services will be free at the point of delivery, but exactly what benefits will be covered and how they will be funded has yet to be spelt out.

The bill is now mired in controversy, after a leaked Treasury letter revealed that its officials were butting heads with the president’s adviser, Olive Shisana, over a host of measures she and her team had changed after the public comment period on the bill closed on September 21. 

Political tension over the bill rose last week after health director-general Precious Matsoso disclosed that she had been sidelined and had not had sight of the bill since it was released for public comment in June, despite being the department's accounting officer. At the time, Shisana confirmed that Matsoso had not been involved, saying Motsoaledi had assigned that task to deputy director-general Anban Pillay and his adviser, Aquina Thulare.

In a three-page statement released by his spokesperson, Popo Maja, on Wednesday afternoon, Motsoaledi said he rejected “with contempt” recent media articles alleging irregularities in the manner in which the NHI Bill was being processed by the government.

He said there was nothing sinister in the presidency’s involvement in the NHI process. There had been extensive consultation between Treasury and his department, facilitated by the presidency, he said.

“Sometimes these consultations took place through exchange of letters. There was hence nothing untoward with the letter written by the National Treasury on this matter. What is sinister, however, is the leaking of such letters to the media by some unscrupulous officials pretending that they uncovered some hidden evil lurking in governmental departmental exchanges,” he said in the statement.

He did not offer an explanation for why the director-general had not been included in revising the NHI bill.

Motsoaledi said the presidency had the right to “facilitate, direct and unblock obstacles in the process of legislation and policy making.

“We have no doubt that the enemies of NHI will do everything possible to try to stop NHI from becoming a reality, failing which, they will try to cast doubt and aspersions on the integrity of the process. We wish to assure the nation that no law is being breached nor any illegality or irregularity committed in the manner in which the legislative process towards realisation of NHI is being conducted between the department of health, its officials, the Treasury, the presidency and the rest of government,” he said.