ANC promises happy consumers

The ANC has made several promises — and threats — during the launch of its election campaign.

Some of them should be good for consumers. But, as with all things political, will the ANC keep its promises and will consumers exercise their muscle and hold it to these promises?

In the main election manifesto, launched last weekend, consumers will find some interesting issues. In the form of a straight promise the ANC says: “We will end VAT on basic foods like flour, milk and sugar, reduce income taxes on people earning under R4 000 a month, end unfair taxation on women— and ensure … that every business pays its fair share.”

In this country, women have been prejudiced financially, but black women in traditional cultures have had a double whammy of poverty and deprivation coupled with the country’s laws and traditional laws.

Now, according to the manifesto dealing with the section on land reform, women will have equal rights to land and special assistance. This presumably will mean that women wanting loans for land will no longer be discriminated against. This is all reinforced by a section of the manifesto which will outlaw all discrimination and back up affirmative action plans.

Also dealing with land reform, but with obvious implications for each one of us consumers, the ANC says it will restructure development agencies and marketing boards to serve the farmers and consumers. In the past these boards paid only nominal attention to consumers.

The ANC says it will make workplaces safer. One hopes it will not forget that consumers have concerns about the environment generally, not only in the workplace. But it is probably in the health sphere that consumers will find most relief — if it comes to pass.

The health plan launched a fortnight ago by the ANC is riddled with wishful thinking and expensive plans. The document is peppered with fine phrases. loose threats and has probably caused more than a handful of doctors to call Pickfords to pack for Perth. But for those of us staying to put out the lights, there is more to this document than scary rhetoric.

The drugs policy, while scaring multi-national drug companies offers benefits to consumers. There will be a form of price control; the use of generic medicines will be encouraged; drug lists will be used (hospitals already employ much of this system which limits the ability of the hospitals or clinics to buy similar expensive drugs); the local drug industry will be promoted and the policy of single exit pricing will be implemented (this should have been implemented but some multinational drug companies put a spoke in that wheel).

Parallel imports will be allowed, enabling the importation of a drug which is cheaper than its equivalent here. One major problem, however, is the idea that the government will be the main buyer of drugs for the public sector. It strikes this Critical Consumer as an invitation to corruption.

The head of the ANC’s economic division, Tito Mboweni, told entrants to the Checkers Award for Consumer Journalism that multinational companies were better than local companies, were easier to deal with, negotiate with and depend on. Most of the journalists believed he had aberrant moment – in the consumer movement pharmaceutical companies are not seen in such glowing philanthropic terms.

The ANC will also scare a group private pathologists on to the next planes out by the suggestion that all existing laboratory services, “including private and forensic ones”, should be restructured. But most consumers who have faced bills for tests they did not ask for, will feel some empathy for this idea – even if its implications are not clear.

Consumers ought to be horrified, however, at a suggestion looking at the staffing of laboratories that there be “accelerated recruitment from disadvantaged and rural communities for prospective students of medical technology”. Presumably consumers will still be able to sue a laboratory which botches a test result.

Similar antagonistic feelings among consumers we likely to be felt when private hospitals are dragged into redistribution and restructuring. It is easy to empathise with the ANC’s view that resources should be diverted from the private to public sectors in health, but one hopes they will use carrots and not sticks – or we will all lose out.

Mothers should be delighted at some of the proposals: there will be free primary care services to children under the age of six; free antenatal, delivery and postnatal care and support for women. Importantly, the ANC sees it necessary to provide primary health care for mothers and their children at the same site.

Women are especially catered for in the health document and the ANC hopes to gain some lost ground — for instance, investigating reinstating state-financed pap smears to screen for early signs of cervical cancer. There will be legal protection for women who are victims of violence and rape. Access to child care, including at workplaces, will be provided (presumably with money the ANC says it is not going to ask the public for).

But the major issue for women — abortion — will continue to be subject to debate. It is clear that the women drawing up the health plan were in favour of abortion, but, could not get it cast in stone.

The document also deals with occupational health hazards as well as maternity benefits, including job security. Patient rights have been included in the document but one of its flaws is the absence of a clear statement of principle which says the public has a right to know what happens in the health care system, including public and private facilities.

Some system of information-gathering should be set up, with the legislated promise that the information is the property of the public. With so much promised state control in the health system, it is necessary to make sure the public knows what its representatives are doing. This will ensure that when, for example, babies die mysteriously or typhoid breaks out, the public — the ultimate consumers of the health system – can take the appropriate action.

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