Lauded by some for bringing stability to the department and slated by his critics for leaving it behind in tatters, Daily Maverick reports one of the longest-serving superintendents-general in the Eastern Cape Health Department, Dr Thobile Mbengashe, resigned from his position on Tuesday (1 September 2020) to take up a post as a special adviser to Premier Oscar Mabuyane.
In September 2013 Dr Thobile Mbengashe was appointed as the superintendent-general of the Eastern Cape Health Department as civil society put pressure on the provincial government to appoint a permanent head of the department. At the time the department saw a succession of acting superintendents-general without anybody wanting to accept the job that was seen as almost impossible to do.
Daily Maverick says Mbengashe was handed the poisoned chalice. A great burden of hope was placed on the shoulders of the soft-spoken man with the superb bedside manner, power to convince, the quick laugh and the precise, enunciated way of speaking.
Seven years later, to the day, he resigned from his job to take up a position as an adviser to the premier, leaving a department with crumbling infrastructure, struggles to access medication, massive supply chain problems, critical human resources issues, the management of many hospitals in tatters and emergency medical services that were idling on the edge of disaster.
The report says quick to admit the failures of the administration and slow to fix what was ailing it, Mbengashe, as the accounting officer for the Health Department, also leaves behind a department with R3bn in unpaid bills. Medico-legal claims had ballooned to R29bn. Following an energetic period of emergency procurement in his department due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he also leaves as the Special Investigating Unit announced a probe into 239 cases in the Eastern Cape Health Department involving R622.4m.
Thoko Mtsolongo, from the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition, representing civil society organisations that work in the province’s health sector, said in the report that they welcomed the resignation of Mbengashe.
“Under Dr Mbengashe’s leadership, while there have been some improvements in financial management and audit outcomes for the Eastern Cape Health Department, the reality for health service users has been dire. The department has repeatedly failed to provide adequate healthcare for people across the province. Hospitals have been dysfunctional, clinics have fallen apart, ambulances have simply failed to arrive.”
The announcement should come as no surprise says Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister of health in the Eastern Cape, Jane Cowley.
The Democratic Alliance has repeatedly called for the Premier to remove Mbengashe as the HOD. The current coronavirus pandemic has revealed the severe shortcomings and systemic lack of management of the Eastern Cape Health Department, which is on the brink of collapse.
This collapse has happened under Mbengashe’s watch. Over the past eight years that he has been at the helm, the department has: Accumulated contingent liabilities of R29bn, mostly due to medico-legal claims against the department; hundreds of vacant funded posts that have remained unfilled. Funds meant for these salaried posts are instead channelled to pay medico-legal claims; chronic under-staffing resulting from funded posts not being filled, which has left healthcare workers stretched beyond their limits. This has also resulted in reduced care of patients resulting in further claims against the department; and allowed a once effective EMS service to splutter to an almost complete halt through centralisation, chronic understaffing and continued shortages of appropriate EMS vehicles.
Mbengashe has also abused his position of authority to place cadres and friends in senior positions within the department that they are not qualified to hold and whose performance has left a legacy of incompetence and institutional incapacity across the province. Mbengashe’s resignation is a clear indication that the department is taking on water and sinking fast.
The Premier has announced that Mbengashe will join his office in an advisory capacity. This move breathes life into the adage the one should keep one’s friends close, but one’s enemies closer.
The first piece of advice Mbengashe should give the Premier is that he should remove the MEC for Health, Sindiswa Gomba, and replace her with somebody that has the requisite capacity for the job.
I will be presenting a Member’s Statement at tomorrow’s sitting in which I will reiterate the reasons why Health MEC Gomba should be removed from office. Her appointment shows us all that political patronage is far more important to the Premier than any concerns for the health of the people of the Eastern Cape.
Issued by: Jane Cowley (MPL) Shadow MEC for HealthFull Daily Maverick report