Axed Health MEC applies to set aside ‘garbage’ SIU findings

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Axed Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku has filed an application in the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria), asking that the findings of the Special Investigating Unit which cost him his job be set aside. He has described the findings against him as “garbage” and his supporters suspect there are politics at play.

Masuku, through his lawyers Motalane Inc, said he had for the past three months “endured an onslaught of unfounded allegations that have been used to tarnish his professional integrity and image”. TimesLIVE notes Masuku was fired this month by Gauteng Premier David Makhura after a damning report by the SIU that probed alleged personal protective equipment (PPE) corruption in the provincial Health Department that allegedly took place under his watch.

The allegations related to a R139m PPE tender awarded to a company owned by Thandisizwe Diko, the husband of Khusela Diko, by the Health Department under Masuku’s leadership several months ago when the government began spending billions on COVID-19 supplies.

The Dikos and the Masukus are family friends, and have separately denied any wrongdoing. Masuku has turned to the courts so that “the adverse findings and recommendations made by the SIU against Dr Masuku, contained in their letters addressed to Premier David Makhura dated 18 September and 1 October 2020 are unlawful, unconstitutional and therefore invalid,” the statement read.

He maintains the SIU findings reached “untruthful and unsubstantiated conclusions which are based on illogical inferences, suppositions and conjecture”.

 

Masuku’s supporters say he is the victim of a powerful faction in Gauteng that wants to remove Makhura from the position of ANC chair in the next provincial conference. Masuku and Khusela Diko, will now have to appear before the party’s disciplinary committee for their alleged role in the scandal. “It’s all about the provincial conference. The move is aimed at eliminating those who are a threat to some of them,” an ANC leader sympathetic to Masuku and Diko is quoted as saying in a Sunday Times report.

Makhura had tried to shield Masuku by not appointing a new Health MEC while the SIU investigation was under way. However, he was defeated at the ANC provincial executive committee by those pushing for a new MEC to be appointed. Gauteng Government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said Makhura would abide by the ANC instruction to appoint a new MEC. The disciplinary process is imminent.

In his 123-page affidavit, Masuku says: “The painstakingly flavoured and flamboyant adjectives contained in the (SIU’s) report were clearly meant to ensure that I unjustifiably get propped up and nailed as the proverbial poster-boy of COVID-19 related corruption. This I cannot leave unchallenged.”

He says it was the provincial government’s decision – following the national government’s model – to centralise procurement in the department of health. It was not his decision. Masuku was dealing with the SIU’s finding that he was “actively involved (in the capacity of co-chairperson)” in the decision to make the Health Department the central procurement agent for the whole province.

The SIU said he should have known the department had a long history of negative audits and had been struggling with its supply chain management. “As such the decision to promote or support any proposal for the centralisation (for PPE) made no sense at all and was irrational to say the least.” The SIU added: “Consequently, the MEC’s support of this proposal may have been for nefarious purposes… to potentially benefit himself, his wife or their friends.”

But, according to the Sunday Times, Masuku says there is no evidence to back up the claim that he lobbied for centralisation. “The decision was in line with what the national government had done and what other provinces were doing, which was to ensure that the department responsible for health care issues and deals with procurement of PPE.” He says his department achieved an unqualified audit and there was no basis to doubt that it could handle the procurement.

“I take great exception to the language used by the SIU as it is not supported by any evidence but is simply an allegation plucked out of the air and used for atmosphere, grabbing of headlines and for effect.”

Masuku also says that, in terms of the law, the MEC is not directly involved in procurement. “I, as an executive authority, was never involved in the PPE procurement nor could I have asked to be involved. Any involvement would amount to unlawful interference with operational matters that do not fall within the ambit of functions performed by an executive authority.”

He says that, as MEC, the “proverbial buck” stops with him, but “compliance with instruction notes in procurement is the granular operational detail that does not ordinarily fall within the realm of an executive authority”.

Masuku says the conclusion that he had failed in his oversight role was “a jump” not supported by the law or the facts, notes the Sunday Times report. “With respect, if the state is going to uncover corruption there needs to be better investigative work and investigators ought to be familiar with the elementary tenets of the environment that they are investigating. The findings are simply garbage.”

Masebe said the Premier would not file a responding affidavit.

 

Full TimesLIVE report

 

Full Sunday Times report (subscription needed)

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