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Where’s the allocation for competence? MPs don’t buy Mkhize’s budget

The slow national vaccination rollout overshadows the merits of the health minister’s R62.5bn plans, they say

Amanda Khoza Presidency reporter
Health minister Zweli Mkhize.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize’s R62.5bn budget was met with mixed reaction on Thursday, with some MPs welcoming it while others outright rejected it. 

Mkhize tabled the budget vote for the 2021/22 financial year, telling parliament R9bn was allocated to fighting the Covid-19 outbreak. He also revealed several health services had been affected by the reprioritisation of the resources to fight the coronavirus.

Debating Mkhize’s budget ANC MP Sibongiseni Dhlomo welcomed the “not so perfect” budget, which was riddled with serious flaws.

Dhlomo, who chairs parliament’s portfolio committee on health, said: “Your annual performance plan may not be realised because of the budget cuts, and that is our concern. Hence we have resolved as the portfolio committee of health to write a letter to the minister of finance [Tito Mboweni], and we await his response.”

He said the committee sought a meeting with Mboweni to discuss how the Treasury could assist the department meet its targets despite the budget cuts.

This is not a crisis that was beyond solid government intervention.
DA MP Siviwe Gwerube on the government's vaccine rollout

DA MP Siviwe Gwerube agreed with Dhlomo, saying it had undoubtedly been a difficult year globally. However, she said she had little confidence in the national vaccination rollout, expected to begin on Monday.

“Let us not make a mistake, this could have been avoided. This is not a crisis that was beyond solid government intervention. But ours is a government of inaction, of obfuscation and a government that evades accountability,” she said.

The EFF’s Susan Thembekwayo rejected the budget, saying years of negligence of the public health system hampered the ability of public hospitals to deliver basic services.

She too accused the government of not having a proper vaccination plan.

“You have learnt nothing from the past two waves of the virus, and you have not prepared our hospitals sufficiently to deal with the virus,” she told Mkhize, adding “if you had any trace of dignity, you would have resigned by now”.

Deputy minister Joe Phaahla came to Mkhize’s defence, saying the SA government had made the best decisions for the country.

“It is common knowledge that our annual performance of 2020/21 was vastly disrupted and a lot of adjustments had to be made,” he said.

Phaahla said the government was concerned about signs of a rising number of infections and the fact that the third wave might be with us sooner than expected.

During lockdown the government was criticised for the banning of alcohol and tobacco, which the government saw as contributing to the number of infections.

In provinces like the Eastern Cape, healthcare systems basically collapsed, patients were fighting each other for basic health care.
UDM MP Nqabayomzi Nkwankwa

“What we need now is to urgently speed up the tabling of laws such as the Tobacco Amendment Bill and also to finalise the bill on the control of the alcohol advertising, as we know that South Africans rank among the highest consumers of alcohol, so we need to tighten up some of the regulations while we ramping up our messages,” said Phaahla.

The UDM also rejected the budget, with Nqabayomzi Nkwankwa saying Covid-19’s second wave brought the healthcare system to a brink of collapse.

“In provinces like the Eastern Cape, healthcare systems basically collapsed, patients were fighting each other for basic health care, and others in hospitals were lying and dying on the floor because of a lack of basic health care,” he charged. 

Nkwankwa said all this happened while the vaccines were moving at a “snail’s pace”.

The UDM also expressed concern with the decision to hold the local government elections in October amid rising number of infections on a daily basis.

The NFP’s Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam supported the budget, saying he understood that Mkhize inherited a department that was already full of challenges.

“On paper, everything appears to be OK, but on the ground and in reality our people are having great difficulty. You can talk about building more hospitals and clinics, but what’s important is providing quality healthcare to our people,” he said.

Responding, Mkhize noted the concerns and suggestions.

He said: “We do accept that this vaccination has not moved to the extent that we wanted it to, but we do want to remind fellow South Africans that we had challenges that are outside our hands, particularly on the AstraZeneca which was already in the country and we couldn’t use it because of the results that indicated less efficacy.”

On the other challenges affecting the health sector, Mkhize said the staff complement in the entire department had been increased, “but we do realise that we need more and the budget reduction is something that is affecting all government departments in government”.

He said the department was determined to fight and uproot corruption.

“We will be coming to the portfolio committee to respond to the auditor-general report because all of us were concerned about the irregularities that related to the PPEs. We do not believe that all the people that have suffered was because of the PPEs.”

Mkhize said the department would work hard to ensure that other services did not suffer a great deal.

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