UPND members of parliament yesterday walked out of the House in protest of the National Health Insurance Bill before it could pass a second reading.
But despite the walk-out, the bill passed a second reading and Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya is scheduled to present the bills committee stage on Friday next week.
UPND Chief Whip Garry Nkombo, who led the protest, told journalists that government wanted to over tax citizens because they had failed to secure an IMF deal.
“We would like to tie this particular tax (NHI) to their (government’s) failure to reach a deal with the IMF – they’ve failed to get the money they wanted from the IMF and they now want to mop up the money from the already over-taxed Zambians,” said Nkombo.
On Thursday, opposition and independent members of parliament pressed the executive to withdraw the bill and subject it to consultation.
Among those who debated against the proposed bill was rebel Roan PF member of parliament Chishimba Kambwili who warned that using the arrogance of numbers to pass bad bills would boomerang.
“Honorable minister, Honorable Vice-President, for the sake of the country to avoid having problems with the unions, to avoid having problems with the employers, associations, please let’s do the right thing. Defer the bill even for a week or two, go and consult these people, listen to their inputs and come back to this House so that when we pass the bill, it is a bill that is accepted by everybody. This idea of wanting to push things because you have got numbers will boomerang and us will just be laughing at you. So for one, please I beg you, there is no hammering here, there is no winner, there is no loser. Health is a matter of urgency, is a matter that concerns everybody,” said Kambwili.
And Mbabala UPND member of parliament Ephraim Belemu proposed that the bill be withdrawn as it was not desirable for Zambians.
“In the form that this Bill has been presented, its not desirable that it proceeds. For me I would even propose that probably we must even consider withdrawing it for now. Whatever flowery language that we might use, the fact is that this insurance that will go with it are a form of a tax. It is a tax. In fact the correct form to call it would have been the Health Insurance tax. If we ask ourselves that in the short time that PF have been in government, how many taxes have you introduced? And you are basically targeting the same people. We are burdening people,” Belemu argued.
He said it was high time government relieved its people from so many taxes.
“Why can’t we relieve people for a while? Let them breath from the so many other taxes that have been introduced. We cannot hope to move ourselves into prosperity by taxing all the time. Allow me to quote what Winstone churchil said concerning tax ‘for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.’ we shall sink and continue sinking the country. One day you will remember us because its in a short time that we are giving you advice. Very soon we will stop because we have realized that you don’t listen. You will remember us one day and it maybe too late,” said Belemu.
Chiengi FDD member of parliament Given Katuta also demanded that the bill be withdrawn.
“This bill can be a good bill if well prepared and cooked and brought to the dining table where everybody would enjoy the meal I would put it that way, but after listening to the minister and after going through the draft itself, I feel that …I will borrow the words that honorable Kambwili used that we should give it some time for other stakeholders to be consulted. We are Zambians, the executive are the directors, but the shareholders are the Zambians themselves. And these directors who are in the executive are suppose to report to the board of directors which is parliament so that we tell them what is suppose to be done. Should we just be adamant because we are in power? We are the voices of the voiceless. I am urging this government which claims to be a listening government to listen to the cries of the people rethink on this bill,” Katuta debated.
And Mwembweshi independent member of parliament Machila Jamba wondered whether government would subsidize for Zambians who were not in employment.
“The ratio of people who are working here in Zambia is maybe one to a thousand (1:1000). Are you sure that the money that I will pay is going to subsidize for everyone who is not working? You know compliance is very important. When someone understands something, you can make someone buy a fridge in Iceland because you have persuaded them and they have understood, they have bought into it. Don’t come with so much that ‘no, am going to do this because I am the one who is a master here’. Let us go to the people and explain to them in simple terms what this insurance in tells so that people can understand. We support this bill but what we are saying minister, we know you are educated, what we are saying is that please may you understand. Madam speaker, as I sit down, please I want to urge the executive, they are not our masters. We are all servants here in Zambia. Can we please if possible withdraw this bill and bring it later when we have actually exhausted all means and all conversations,” said Jamba.