The National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill has inadequate checks and balances to prevent money being looted on a huge scale, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has warned, in a Business Day report. The Bill, currently before Parliament, is the first piece of enabling legislation for the government’s plans for universal health coverage.
The scale of alleged corruption that has recently come to light in the awarding of coronavirus contracts and the looting of relief funds has highlighted the dangers of inadequate oversight and accountability, DA health spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube said. “Our view is politicians should be kept away from procurement processes entirely.” The NHI fund needed to be overseen by an independent board that was free of political interference, she said. The Bill needed to be written with the worst-case scenario in mind, so that its institutions could withstand interference from ‘the worst possible’ members of the executive, she said.
Meanwhile, Parliament has yet to resolve how to manage the deluge of public submissions it has received in response to the NHI Bill, said Gwarube. It received 961 submissions during its tour of the provinces, has received more than 64,000 written submissions and is still debating the terms of reference for an external service provider, which the DA wants restricted to administrative tasks.
The DA is also proposing that the 121 stakeholders who have asked to make oral presentations each be allocated a half-hour slot, with another 30 minutes set aside for questions, considerably longer than Parliament’s proposal of 10-minute slots. ‘While we have noted the deliberate rushing of the process by the ANC, we are committed to ensuring that we conduct this work deliberately and thoroughly,’ said Gwarube.
The DA said its national oversight tour to healthcare facilities uncovered many problems – including 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.
A report in The Citizen notes the party said this was a clear indication of the possible failure of the proposed NHI Bill. Giving feedback on the tour through a Zoom media briefing, the DA’s Natasha Mazzone said while R5bn was lost or misappropriated due to corruption and irregular tender processes, Gauteng province awarded millions of rands worth of tenders irregularly.
According to Mazzone, R4.5m was paid to companies that did not supply any goods; R5m was paid for PPE without contracts put in place; R12m worth of goods were delivered without purchase orders; R82m worth of supplies were ordered with companies that are not registered on the National Treasury’s central supplier database and R239m worth of PPE was ordered from companies that were not tax-compliant and with unverified bank accounts.
“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 from the ANC to rush this Bill,’ she said.
Full Business Day report (subscription needed)
DA statement on Bill
Full report in The Citizen