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MPs protest at being denied extra time to mull conflicting opinions

Tamar Kahn

Opposition MPs on Wednesday walked out of parliament’s health committee in protest after the chair declined their request to postpone deliberations on the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill to allow them more time to consider the complexities of the legal advice received last week.

MPs received divergent views on the bill from deputy chief state law adviser Ayesha Johaar, who said the bill met constitutional muster, and parliament’s legal adviser Sueanne Isaac, who said the bill was open to constitutional challenge on several fronts.

The bill is the ANC-led government’s first piece of enabling legislation for NHI, and contains wide-ranging reforms aimed at achieving universal health coverage.

The committee has been considering the bill since 2019 and is in the final stages of its work on the proposed legislation. Once it has finalised its amendments to the bill, it will be submitted to the National Assembly for approval. If passed, the bill will then be sent to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence.

Freedom Front Plus MP Philip van Staden said the documents submitted by Johaar and Isaac required careful consideration, and asked for deliberations to be postponed for a week so that political parties could obtain their own legal counsel on the matter.

“It will be a great injustice if we are not afforded adequate time to seek legal advice on the input,” he said.

He was supported by the DA’s Lindy Wilson, who said the state law adviser and parliament’s legal adviser had taken months to prepare their respective positions, yet MPs had been accorded barely a week to consider the documents they had submitted. “They are legal opinions and they are polar opposites of each other. You are asking us to deal with (over) a hundred pages of legal reports that need serious consideration in days,” she said.

The EFF’s Naledi Chirwa also called for the meeting to be postponed, saying the party needed more time to consider the legal input received by the committee. “I don’t know if the chair is aware we had the very big task of shutting down the country,” she said, alluding to the EFF’s national protest on Monday. Acting committee chair Elvis Siwela declined their calls to postpone the meeting, prompting Van Staden to leave the meeting, followed by Wilson and her DA colleague Michele Clark. They were followed soon afterwards by Chirwa and EFF MP Suzan Thembekwayo.

The DA said later it had written to parliament’s chair of chairs, Cedric Frolick, to request his urgent intervention in the matter and to its legal advisers, requesting a letter to confirm it was not possible to do justice to the documentation in the time available. MPs had only two working days to consider the matter (Thursday and Friday), as much of SA had taken a long weekend as Tuesday was a public holiday, said Wilson.

After opposition MPs walked out, ANC MPs presented their party’s position on the input received last week from the legal and law advisers. They agreed with the position put forward with the state law adviser, saying the bill was rational and in line with the constitution.





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