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Ramaphosa vows that the NHI won’t be subject to looting like the R500 billion Covid fund.

It will be different this time: Ramaphosa promises NHI won’t be looted like the R500 billion Covid fund

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that the widespread corruption within government during the Covid-19 pandemic served as a learning curve, assuring that the National Health Insurance (NHI) would not face the same fate.

However, the President said that while numerous precautions can be taken from the lessons learnt from Covid, “people who want to steal will always find loopholes,” and thus, action on corruption needs to be taken as it comes.

Speaking to 702 and EWN, Ramaphosa said the government has “learned a lot of lessons over time” about corruption and how to deal with it.

The Covid-19 emergency measures in South Africa, including a R500-billion relief package, emergency social grants, and personal-protective equipment tenders were gravely exploited by corrupt individuals and businesses.

Fraudulent activities involved (but were not limited to) misappropriation of relief funds, including misuse of relief schemes and procurement irregularities.

Ramaphosa said that he was “the first to concede that when it came to… personal protection equipment, we made a mistake. We allowed everyone in the country to be a provider,” which led to a feeding frenzy from the public trough.

The new laws allow the government to establish a multi-billion rand fund that will become the sole purchaser of healthcare services in South Africa and leaves it in the hands of the government, with centralised power sitting with the Minister of Health.

The actual value of the fund is still to be determined, but estimates have placed the required funding at R200 billion at minimum, scaling up massively to R1 trillion in some scenarios – which people worry could suffer the same ill fate as the Covid funds.

Ramaphosa was nonchalant about the issue, saying that “incidents of corruption are something that you curb as you learn. You learn on the job… and then close the loopholes because people who want to steal will always find loopholes and that is when as they happen you close those loopholes.”

The new NHI laws make provisions to handle any persons or organisations that try to defraud the system, which could result in R100,000 fines or five years in jail if convicted.

However, the government has a poor track record of enforcing these kinds of laws, and has an even worse track record in running state companies and multi-billion-rand funds.

Almost every single major national company run by the state – Eskom, Transnet, SAA, SA Post Office, Denel, and the SABC, among others – have collapsed or succumbed to corruption and financial mismanagement in some way.

Meanwhile, the Road Accident Fund—which manages a much smaller pool of money than is envisioned for the NHI—is a mess.

Despite this, Ramaphosa, minister of health, Joe Phaahla, and deputy director-general for NHI Nicholas Crisp have all said that things will be different this time.

Phaahla casually shrugged off concerns in February, saying that worries over corruption were “overblown” and that the billions of rands will be “safe in government’s hands”. Crisp, meanwhile, said that the NHI could easily go the way of SARS, rather than Eskom, in terms of how it is managed.

He noted that entities such as the South African Medical Research Council and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority were run competently and successfully – so to label the NHI as corrupt or a failure before it even has the chance to launch is unfair.

“To criticise an agency that has not yet been established, let alone operationalised, is definitely premature,” he said.

Source businesstech.co.za

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