Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Picture: GALLO IMAGES

The DA will present parliament with 87,000 written submissions it has collected on the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, and is insisting that these and all other inputs are scrutinised directly by MPs rather than being outsourced to a third party.

The DA's call for lawmakers to roll up their sleeves follows parliament's controversial decision last year to contract recruitment company Silumko Consulting to assess hundreds of thousands of submissions received in response to its constitutional review of land expropriation without compensation.

The DA’s health spokesperson, Siviwe Gwarube, said on Monday that parliament had already received more than 100,000 submissions in response to the NHI bill, independently of the process managed by the party.

All the submissions should be scrutinised by the National Assembly's health portfolio committee itself and not outsourced to a potentially politically aligned third party, she said.

“We as public representatives need to go through the submissions ourselves, and make sure the views of South Africans are taken into consideration,” she said.

The NHI Bill is the first piece of enabling legislation for the government’s plans for implementing universal health coverage and is currently being processed by the National Assembly. It was released for public comment on August 8, and interested parties have until Friday to submit written comments. In a parallel process, parliament’s portfolio committee on health is holding public hearings in the provinces: it has already toured Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and Limpopo, and is currently in KwaZulu-Natal.

Gwarube said the party supported the principle of universal health coverage, but the “deeply flawed” NHI Bill was not the right way to achieve it. The bill’s provisions for the establishment of a central fund that would pay for services left it vulnerable to corruption and it did not address the systemic failures of the public health system, she said. The DA had no doubt that the NHI Fund would befall the same fate as every other cash-strapped state-owned enterprise, she said.

The DA reiterated concerns it has previously raised about the public participation process currently under way in provinces, saying some gatherings had been hijacked by the ANC, which had bussed in supporters in party regalia, and “fraudulent” leaflets had been distributed that created the impression that parliament was fully behind the bill.

The leaflets contained parliamentary contact details and urged people to sign them in support of the bill, said the DA’s deputy health spokesperson Lindy Wilson. Parliament had a duty to be nonpartisan, and the DA had laid a formal complaint about the leaflets with parliament’s chair of chairs, Cedrick Frolick, she said.

Wilson said the bill’s “clear erosion” of the powers of provincial health departments was unconstitutional and was at odds with the National Health Act, despite the assurances previously provided by the state law adviser to committee that it passed constitutional muster, she said. The constitution says health is a concurrent power to be shared among the different spheres of government, so the bill’s proposals to sharply reduce the role of the provinces in the delivery of healthcare raises questions about whether it is at odds with the constitution.

The DA’s Mbulelo Bara said the role of provincial health departments needed to be explicitly clarified when the bill was considered by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), which had a duty to satisfy itself of the constitutionality of the bill.

“The days when the NCOP just rubber stamps what the National Assembly does are over,” he said.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za