Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist

Health minister Joe Phaahla accused of anti-democratic conduct

Joe Phaahla's officials labelled NGOs terrorists and saboteurs, and advised that public comments be discarded as “generic”.  

Health minister Joe Phaahla has been accused of anti-democratic conduct in relation to public consultation process on regulatory amendments to the Health Act.

The department’s officials allegedly called organisations AfriForum and Dear South Africa terrorists and saboteurs instigating chaos against the state and wasting its resources. This was as the lobby groups made submissions for the amendments.

“The email went even further by labelling the organisations opposing the regulatory amendments (including AfriForum and DearSA) as ‘terrorists’ and ‘saboteurs’ who are ‘instigating chaos against the state’ and ‘wasting’ its resources,” DearSA Chief Executive Officer Gideon Joubert said in a statement.

Also concerning, according to DearSA, were the health department’s internal communications recommending approximately 300,000 public comments to be discarded as “generic”.  

Dear South Africa has since expressed deep concern about a developing trend of government departments and officials undermining the public participation process or treating it with condescension.

During AfriForum and DearSA’s court proceedings against Phaahla regarding regulatory amendments to the Health Act, the organisation said they discovered that his original intent was to force the new regulations through.

Joubert said the Department of Health allowed the public only a truncated 30-day comment period to tick the required public participation boxes before steamrolling ahead.

He said significant public pressure forced the minister to extend the commentary period to a full three months, but his failure to do so from the start was telling.

Joubert said furthermore, to intimidate the applicants, Phaahla threatened to pursue costs against DearSA and AfriForum if they refused to withdraw their applications.

Department of health spokesperson Foster Mohale is yet to reply to a request for comment.

“This threat is legally unsound and entirely inappropriate for an organ of the state. Using government resources to protect the minister’s decision from judicial scrutiny is iniquitous,” he said.

Joubert noted that abuse of state resources to silence public input and protect government officials from accountability was not isolated or rare.

He said this week’s incident where police minister Bheki Cele, used SA Police Service members to forcibly remove Ian Cameron of Action Society, a non-profit organisation, from the Gugulethu community meeting was another example of such disgraceful conduct.

Joubert pointed that the Constitution not only mandates public participation by citizens in their governance but also protects it.

He lamented that actions by government officials that undermine public participation weaken and damage SA’s democratic processes.

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AfriForum Dr Joe Phaahla Health Department

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