NHI BILL: PUBLIC PARTICIPATION PROCESS

The thinking behind Parliament’s decision to hold provincial public hearings this year on the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill has not been clearly communiciated in the mainstream media. A Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) sound recording of the meeting at which National Assembly Health Committee chair Sibongiseni Dhlomo announced what is envisaged confirmed that several stakeholders have already approached the committee for more time to prepare detailed written submissions and, subsequently, to present their views during parliamentary hearings. Given the importance of allowing committee members enough time to study these submissions and others already received, according to Dhlomo it seems likely that parliamentary hearings will only take place next year – possibly also allowing more preparation time for those requiring it.

Meanwhile, members of the general public will air their views during provincial hearings scheduled to begin on 25 October in Mpumalanga . Hearings in the Northern Cape province will follow on 1 November. Although dates for the remaining provinces have yet to be announced, four days have been allocated to each province thus far. According to the PMG recording, Dhlomo believes it is important that committee members have an opportunity to hear first-hand the perspectives, concerns and expectations of ordinary South Africans before considering those of stakeholders with the resources to make more detailed written submissions and travel to Parliament to present them in person.

A presidential health accord signed in July maps out what needs to be accomplished during the next five years if NHI is ever to get off the ground. Among other things, the compact entails ‘engaging the private sector’ on improving healthcare service access, coverage and quality.

NHI NEWS FLASH:

During a meeting of the National Assembly’s Health Committee on 29 August, Department of Health DG Precious Matsoso told members that work has already begun on drafting amendments to Acts likely to be affected when the National Health Insurance Bill becomes law. They are listed in a schedule to the Bill and include the 2003 National Health Act. Last week, in a written reply to questions from the DA’s Mbulelo Bara, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize provided some insights into ‘direct powers’ likely to be ‘allocated’ to provincial governments in amendments to this Act.

Readers are encouraged to bear in mind that:

  1. Any proposed amendments to the Act will need to be released as a draft Bill for public comment;
  2. Once finalised, that Bill will then need to be tabled in Parliament for processing; and
  3. Public hearings will then need to be held in the National Assembly and, as the Bill proceeds through Parliament, also in the NCOP and provincial legislatures.

This is just one example of the extent to which NHI implementation is likely to be postponed until other legislation affected by the NHI Bill has been synchronised with it. Realistically, that cannot be done until the Bill has been finalised and passed by Parliament.

The same will apply to any proposed amendments to the 1998 Medical Schemes Act. Although a draft Medical Schemes Amendment Bill was released in June 2018 for comment, its proposals appear not to be in line with the NHI Bill – tending to imply that it is being reworked and will therefore need to be released again for public input. It will then need to be tabled in Parliament and undergo the same process as any other Bill.

Against that backdrop, the NHI Bill’s passage through Parliament is likely to be long, arduous and fraught. It could take many years, begging the question: Has this has ever been explained to grassroots ANC members and supporters? If the party’s 2019 election manifesto is any indication, probably not.

ON THE VEXED ISSUE OF ‘PRESCRIBED ASSETS’:

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In the absence of a clear policy statement, speculation is rife about the likelihood of government introducing ‘prescribed assets’ as one measure to rescue struggling state-owned companies and boost economic growth. Vague comments on the subject from President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC national executive committee member Enoch Godongwana have been quoted endlessly in the mainstream media. However, apart from an undertaking in the ruling party’s 2019 election manifesto to ‘investigate the introduction’ of prescribed assets on the funds of financial institutions – with the aim of ‘unlock(ing) resources for investments in social and economic development’ – only one Cabinet member has made an official comment on the matter.

In June – addressing pension fund trustees at a function in Johannesburg – Trade & Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel urged them to play their role in stimulating economic growth by investing in ‘real assets’. This was noting that government ‘is looking not just to foreign direct investment’ to stimulate the economy but also – ‘and very strongly’ – to domestic investment. The Minister believes fund trustees ‘have a responsibility … to help lift the long-term rate of growth of the South African economy as a key means of realising the pension promise’.

‘A sluggish economy impacts directly on the performance of your overall portfolio,’ Patel is quoted as having said in a Department of Trade & Industry media statement at the time. Against that backdrop, he invited the Council for Retirement Funds to ‘engage with government to learn more about ‘the new administration’s vision’ for promoting sustainable development, along with the interventions being considered. In the Minister’s view, the situation in which SA now finds itself calls for for ‘a longer-term perspective on returns’.

An article along these lines appeared in Legalbrief Today on 12 June, under Policy Watch

IN PARLIAMENT LAST WEEK:

DEBT RELIEF:

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It could take as long as two years to implement the 2019 National Credit Amendment Act, according to Department of Trade & Industry officials. Briefing members of the National Assembly’s Trade & Industry Committee on Tuesday, they emphasised the importance of avoiding any ‘unintended consequences’ identified during a socio-economic impact assessment concluded in May. One could be that credit providers ‘implicitly’ draw a distinction between higher- and lower-risk low-income earners applying for credit – creating a ‘dual credit system’ and pushing the very people the Act seeks to assist away from legitimate credit providers into unregulated, informal markets.

Signed into law last month, once operational the Act will make long-term debt intervention accessible to consumers with a monthly income of R7 500 or less and unsecured debt not exceeding R50 000. However, regulations will need to be developed, released in draft form for public comment and finetuned before the Act can be implemented. In addition, the National Credit Regulator and National Consumer Tribunal will need additional resources to deal with what will inevitably be an increased demand for their services. That said, Trade & Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel made it very clear that the expectations of low-income consumers will need to be carefully managed. The Act will not ‘write-off’ their debt.

LAND EXPROPRIATION WITHOUT COMPENSATION:

The process of developing a Bill to amend section 25 of the Constitution – specifying the circumstances in which land may be expropriated without compensation – could take longer than expected. During Wednesday’s meeting of the ad hoc committee established by Parliament to draft the Bill, it was agreed that, while every effort should be made to meet the 31 March 2020 deadline for tabling it in the National Assembly, constituency work and demands on the time of members chairing other committees may well cause delays.

In keeping with the constitutionally enshrined principle of public partifcipation in the process of drafting new legislation – not to mention the Rules of Parliament – a draft Bill will be released for comment and public hearings held in the National Assembly, NCOP and provincial legislatures.

Before beginning the drafting process, the committee intends holding a workshop at which it will be briefed by experts and key stakeholders on the thinking behind recommendations in a broader report produced by former President Kgalema Motlanthe’s high-level panel, as well as a more recent report compiled by the presidential advisory panel on land reform and agriculture. However, while these recommendations will inform the process of developing the Bill, they are not binding.

Committee members (courtesy of the Parliamentary Monitoring Group): Click on each name for additional information.

GOING FORWARD …

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CHANGING TACK …

This site provides reliable, accurate information on public policy and law-making issues of concern to ordinary South Africans. The mainstream media tends to sensationalise new developments out of context. Journalists rarely if ever take time to read the documents available to them or to develop a sound understanding of new policy and legislative proposals. As a result, misinformation abounds.

Until recently, the site was used for archived articles published in Legalbrief Today under Policy Watch. It was linked to Twitter alerts designed to promote the product. That has changed. In future, information posted here will draw on the author’s observations in Parliament but will not replicate Legalbrief Policy Watch articles, unless otherwise explicitly stated.

The author’s observations will not include personal opinions but will focus on facts supported with documentary evidence cirulated by Parliament itself. That said, they should not be construed as representing the views of Juta Law, which publishes Legalbrief Today and CompliNEWS – to which the author continues to contribute as an independent contractor.

The site is not designed to field comments or answer questions. Its purpose is to make reliable information on contentious issues freely available. With that in mind, for the foreseeable future it will focus on:

  • national health insurance (NHI)
  • land expropriation without compensation (EWC)
  • debt relief
  • prescribed assets
  • the role of the South African Reserve Bank
  • hate crime and hate speech
  • cyber security.

The site will be updated only when new information on these topics becomes publicly available. If nothing has been posted recently, it is more than likely that no new information has been officially released by Parliament or government. The author does not have access to any other reliable source material on public policy developments and does not use unsubstantiated mainstream media reports.