Guest Column

Motsoaledi's 'captured MPs' comment undemocratic and unhealthy

2019-02-28 05:00
Aaron motsoaledi on amendments to the medical schemes act

Aaron motsoaledi on amendments to the medical schemes act ((Screen grab) Inga Mbambisa)

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Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has the singular distinction of having served in as minister in one portfolio since 2009. Yet, in that time, the health system has regressed considerably, writes Tsholofelo Mokone.

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi is probably one of the most respected ministers coming out of former president Jacob Zuma's administration. He is a trusted and principled politician and servant of the people.

In addition to not being implicated in any Bosasa or Gupta scandals, he has shown a willingness to give up his personal time to assist in hospitals when medical personnel were running short. A rare breed indeed.

However, in all that praise, we must not shy away from confronting his nanny instincts and somewhat misplaced zeal when it comes to matters of the public health system.

In his closing remarks during the debate of the president's State of the Nation Address, Minister Motsoaledi repeated a comment made in 2018 urging Members of Parliament (MPs) to not allows themselves to be captured by corporates when dealing with regulating consumption of certain products. He made reference to his sense that some MPs had been captured during the parliamentary debates on the introduction of a sugar tax. He thus urged members to not allow themselves to be "captured by big tobacco, liquor or sugar companies".

One wonders what is at play here. Many may interpret his dig at MPs as a nudge to straight jacket their thoughts and fall behind the executive wing of government even when doing so does not make sense. One would have assumed that Minister Motsoaledi would in fact invite MPs to be robust in their engagement with proposals emanating from the Department of Health to ensure that these are aligned with the broader priorities of the state and society as a whole.

Given the terrible missteps of the previous government on legislative proposals, one would have assumed that members of the executive would be quite alarmed by the potential to look the other way by MPs. That approach, which had been de riguer under President Zuma, failed miserably as government found itself in court many times to defend the desirability of legislation. MPs have a mandate that they must live up to, which is to ensure that they act as a check on government, including ensuring that legislation makes sense, is reasonable, practicable and the best choice available for tackling the identified malady. 

It is quite understandable that for a medical doctor, he is used to prescribing what he thinks is the best remedy for people, so talk about respecting the choices of consumers on what they consume and safeguarding the interests of commercial entities making so called sin products may grate a bit. This is even more understandable when considered against the growing load of non-communicable diseases which have been found to be exacerbated by lifestyle choices. 

However, it is a troubling phenomenon when these instincts are held at the level of a government minister who has presided over the large-scale failure of the public health system in the country.

Unlike many ministers who have been moved around at will by the former president Zuma, Motsoaledi has the singular distinction of having served in one portfolio since 2009. Yet, in that time, the health system has regressed considerably. At the Presidential Public Health Summit held earlier this month, President Cyril Ramaphosa admitted as much. The report of the summit uses the word crisis 16 times, signalling the destruction that has befallen this important sector of our society.

Minister Motsoaledi is right to be impassioned about the health of South Africans. However, he is wrong to cast MPs who are disagreeable to his thinking as being captured. That kind of narrative does not aid democracy. It does nothing to enhance the performance of government and to ensure that legislative proposals are not just focused on curbing some forms of behaviour at the expense of other equally important considerations.

There is nothing wrong with MPs demanding that legislation does not unduly affect the lives of workers in the sugar industry. This is the very reason why the public goes to polls every other year; to ensure that all interests are taken care of when choices are made. Governing is, after all, not a zero-sum game, but a delicate balancing act in perpetuity.

- Tsholofelo Mokone is a regulatory and stakeholder engagement officer at Frontline Africa Advisory.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    aaron motsoaledi  |  mps  |  department of health
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