The amendments to the National Health Laboratory Service Amendment Bill (NHLS) by the Select Committee on Social Services were discussed.
Members mainly discussed amendments to Clauses five, six, nine and 15 which were concerned with provincial representation technicalities, dissolution of the Board and the appointment of the Board and Laboratory Professionals.
Members raised concerns about the technicalities of implementing rotational provincial representation as suggested by the Select Committee. There was also a concern about technical difficulties related to organised labour representation.
There was debate about whether the Bill should be adopted despite reservations held by Members and be amended in the sixth parliament. Some Members felt that it would be in the interest of the nation to pass the Bill and secure stability for the NHLS before the upcoming election, while others felt that it would be a waste of resources to pass the Bill and amend it thereafter.
The National Freedom Party (NFP) moved for the adoption of the Bill and were seconded by the African National Congress (ANC). The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) reserved judgment stating a need to consult with their caucuses on the matter.
The Chairperson welcomed all in attendance.
The National Health Laboratory Services Amendment Bill was the only agenda item for the meeting.
The Bill had gone through various stages before this meeting. Members were there because the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) had rejected some areas of the Bill and the Committee had to deliberate what its view on the matter would be.
The Chairperson introduced the Committee support staff, Committee Members. And the Department of Health (DoH) delegation introduced themselves.
Apologies received were from Ms R Adams (ANC), Ms S Kopane (DA) and Ms L James (DA).
Select Committee Amendments
Ms Barbara Loots, Parliamentary Legal Adviser said that the D-Bill was the final version that the NCOP dealt with. The amendments made were highlighted in the C-List.
In Section four (c) the Select Committee added “provide and support…” instead of “provide support for health science education” as suggested by the Department to enable the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) to support training.
Section five of Principal Act made mention of “Technikons” which was not in line with other legislation. The Select Committee recommended it be replaced with “Universities of Technology”.
The Select Committee agreed with the amendment by the Department, however, rejected the inclusion of Provincial representatives and inserted: “(e) one representative from organised labour”.
The Provinces in regard to the composition of the board felt that there needed to be Provincial representation. They added subclause (f): “three members, each representing a cluster of three provinces that must be prescribed based on demographics, access to laboratory services and laboratory services distribution, and who must be nominated on a rotational basis by the respective provinces in the prescribed manner”.
The Select Committee rejected the amendment of Section 8 and reinstated the provision that appropriate Laboratory Professionals be appointed.
On Section eight (4) the Select Committee inserted: “ (b) by the substitution for subsection (4) for the following subsection: ‘‘(4) The members of the Board may hold office for a period of at least three years, as the Minister may determine at the time of appointment, but must be eligible for reappointment, which reappointment must not be more than once.’’”
The Department added section 10A on dissolution of the Board. The Select Committee agreed but added subsection six as follows: “The subparagraph (5) appointment is subject to persons who were members of the dissolved Board not constituting more than six members of the Board.”
The Select Committee rejected the proposed amendment by the Department that Section 25 on proceedings by the Minister on non-compliance should be repealed and replaced with section 10 (A), Dissolution of the Board. The Select Committee re-instated section 25 by implication.
Ms E Wilson (DA) on Clause five raised concern about the execution of nominating provincial representation on a rotational basis. She was concerned about the lack of continuity that a rotational basis would have in terms of institutional memory.
Mr A Mahlalela (ANC) welcomed the presentation and NCOP amendments. He had a reservation on provincial representation because it did not make sense politically and fundamentally. He was concerned because it was a national body not a provincial or federal body and therefore the issue of trying to federalise South Africa was a problem. Once this route was taken, other boards would require similar representation which he believed might be a legal challenge but did not make sense politically.
On the rotational basis, he enquired if it would be annually or quarterly and how it would be defined and clustered. These factors needed to be considered because it could lead to an implementation nightmare. There would not be a fundamental problem without it because at least the board would be able to be reconstituted if the three provincial representative members were not there and still do its work. He said that the prescription of representation by organised labour was not appropriate.
On the rejection of Section 25, Mr Mahlalela asked what the logic of the Minister going to Court was when there was already a provision for dissolving the Board in section 10 (A) in the case of non-compliance. According to the parliamentary rules, the Committee could not amend these amendments. It could only agree or disagree, and if there was no agreement then there had to be mediation. He proposed that Members accept the amendments regardless of reservations so that the bigger picture of financial stability and stabilisation of the NHLS could be realised and not left in its current mess. If the matter was not addressed there would be challenges of continuity after the election and the reinstatement of a new parliament.
Mr A Shaik Emam (NFP) raised a concern on the dissolution of board whether the clause was necessary given the serious challenges with boards that could occur if six members could return after dissolution. On organised labour, he enquired about which mechanism would represent organised labour but added that despite technical difficulties, in principle it would have a positive impact.
Ms Wilson, on clause five said she agreed with Mr Mahlalela that it was a national body and that provincial representation had too many aspects which still needed to be clarified. She did not agree with the suggestion that the Bill be adopted, and reservations be dealt with after. Concerns needed to be clarified and corrected before approving the Bill and not after, to avoid wasting time and resources. It had to be done correctly the first time.
The Chairperson said the two areas where the difficulty was would be investigated to avoid a messy issue around the NHLS, where the Department would have irregular expenditure. Yes, there were reservations by the Members but the bigger picture which was to ensure that the NHLS do what they are supposed to be doing was a priority. The Chairperson asked if the Committee should let the NHLS collapse because of money. The Bill allows the Department to follow procedure and would create normality in the structure and in the sector. The bigger picture was that the NHLS would have a board that would allow it to function efficiently. She asked if the reservations held by Members were enough to allow the Bill to collapse considering the historic challenges of the NHLS.
Ms Malebona Matsoso, Director-General (DG), DoH, thanked Members for responding to the draft put forward by the Select Committee. The Department had struggled with the provision because initially it had a problem regarding provincial representation in the NHLS. Firstly, there was the problem of appointment and process of elimination which was initiated by the Minister and Members of the Executive Council (MECs) who nominated officials. Secondly, there was the problem of non-attendance and this affected the functioning of the Board and it was an on-going problem. Despite this there had to be some form provincial representation and the ‘fall-back’ position was to select three representatives. The Department agreed that the matter was a challenge.
On organised labour representation, Ms Matsoso said that the Department did not think the linkage between the appointment and the skills should be applied to the labour representatives, as it was limiting.
On the Minister’s powers and Section 25, Ms Matsoso said that the Select Committee thought it served a different purpose and therefore wanted the Section removed.
Dr P Maesela (ANC) said that for the good of the nation, the Bill should be passed and amended in the sixth parliament to prevent a collapse of the NHLS.
The Chairperson agreed that it was not about what the Committee wanted but what the country needed. She was putting it bluntly because users of public health services needed a well-functioning NHLS. She asked for a formal mover and secondment of the National Health Laboratory Services Amendment Bill [B15D-2017], National Assembly Section 76, amended by the NCOP and referred to the Committee report that it has agreed to the Bill.
Ms Wilson said she would reserve judgement on the matter until she consulted her caucus.
Mr Shaik Emam said he believed it was in the interest of the people to pass the Bill and proposed the amendment be accepted.
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) said she would be reserving judgement so she can also consult with her caucus.
Dr Maesela seconded Mr Shaik Emam on the adoption of the Bill
The Chairperson gave thanks and commended the Department for its efforts.
The meeting was adjourned.
- DoH - National Health Laboratory Services Amendment Bill
- National Health Laboratory Services Amendment Bill amendments
- National Health Laboratory Service Amendment Bill [B15D-2017]
- National Health Laboratory Service Amendment Bill [B15C-2017]
- National Laboratory Service Amendment [B15B-2017]
- National Health Laboratory Amendment Bill [B15A-2017]
- National Health Laboratory Service Amendment Bill [B15D-2017]
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