South Africa: State Attorney to Brief Health Committee On NHI Bill's Constitutionality

The portfolio committee on health will be briefed by the state attorney on the constitutionality of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, committee chairperson Sibongiseni Dhlomo said on Thursday.

On Tuesday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane questioned the constitutionality of the bill. He wrote to National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise to urgently request that she instructs the parliamentary legal services to obtain a legal opinion on the bill before it appeared before the portfolio committee on health. He had also asked the DA's legal team for an opinion on whether the bill is constitutional.

The party is questioning its constitutionality as it will seemingly take away the provinces' constitutionally enshrined right to handle health services.

In a statement, Dhlomo said as the committee started its work on the bill, it would be important to get a presentation from the state attorney on the legal advice it gave to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on the constitutionality of the NHI Bill.

"As the committee starts this process, we want to address the concerns raised by various people, including those who think they will find space to challenge the constitutionality of the NHI Bill.

"This should be done speedily, so that as we start with the NHI Bill we can set aside concerns and know the contribution of legal experts on the matter.

"The committee does not want anything untoward to delay public participation on the bill. However, we still want to address concerns, hence the importance of starting with the state attorney," said Dhlomo.

Since the introduction of the bill to Parliament last week, the DA and ANC's war of words about it has intensified.

Following Dlomo's announcement, DA MP and spokesperson on health Siviwe Gwarube claimed he had buckled under pressure from the DA to investigate the bill's constitutionality.

"The DA and indeed the public have serious concerns about the constitutionality of this bill and the ramifications it would pose to our already ailing economy," Gwarube said in a statement.

"The NHI will disempower provinces and centralise health care in the national government - effectively creating another state-owned entity. The Constitution and the National Health Act have purposefully divided legislative powers between the two spheres of government in order to ensure checks and balances.

"The truth is that the NHI is doomed to fail because the ANC is attempting to use this bill to disguise its failure in providing quality public health care over the past 25 years."

Gwarube said the DA had also noticed "what seems to be a co-ordinated attack from the ANC and its allies to spread misinformation about the DA's position on universal health care".

"We will not be detracted by their lies," she added.

"The DA unequivocally supports universal health care. We will, however, not support a fundamentally problematic piece of legislation that will destroy the health sector and push the economy over the precipice.

"We are ready to debate the merits of the DA's Sizani health plan, and the faults of the NHI. Ultimately, we want universal health care that fixes a broken system and puts the people first."


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