President Cyril Ramaphosa has authorised the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) for corruption, reports Business Day. The NHLS is a crucial part of the public health service, as it provides all the tests used to diagnose and monitor diseases, ranging from HIV to listeriosis. It also provides a training platform for pathologists and technicians, and offers some highly specialised tests not offered by private sector providers.
According to the report, the presidency said the SIU is to investigate “multiple allegations of maladministration, improper or unlawful conduct and intentional or negligent loss of public money”. The allegations cover the period from 1 July, 2015 to the present. The SIU investigation will cover a more than a dozen tenders, ranging from the provision of computers to leasing vehicles. The tenders include renovation contracts for the virology laboratory at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, the library at the National Institute of Occupational Health, the Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis, and for toilets at the National Institute of Communication Diseases. “Any unlawful or improper conduct by the employees or officials of the NHLS or applicable service providers will be examined by the SIU,” said the presidency.
The report says NHLS board chair Eric Buch welcomed the announcement, saying he and NHLS acting CEO Kamy Chetty had met SIU head Andy Mothibi in November and requested an investigation into the institution. “We think there have been quite serious irregularities,” he said. An independent forensic investigation had revealed tender irregularities, which the NHLS board had reported to the Treasury’s chief procurement office and the South African Police Service, he said. The tenders that were to be probed were worth about R250m, he said.
The report says the NHLS suspended its CEO, Joyce Mogale, and CFO Sikhumbuzo Zulu in February 2017, following allegations of corruption and maladministration leveled by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union. That disciplinary process has faced a series of delays, but Buch said he hoped it would be finalised within the next few months. The NHLS’s head of internal audit and risk had been dismissed for dereliction of duty and misleading the board, he said. Buch said the SIU investigation would not affect the day-to-day running of the NHLS. The institution was in a strong financial position and had ended the 2017/2018 financial year with a surplus, he said.
“This is a major turnaround” he said, referring to the fact that the NHLS closed the 2016/2017 financial year with a R1.9bn deficit because the auditor-general doubted it would be able to recover significant debts owed by the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal health departments.
The report says since then, the NHLS had reached a settlement agreement with the Gauteng Health Department, and swung back into the black to report a R1.3bn surplus for the 2017/2018 year.Business Day report