Ramaphosa’s ‘wake-up’ to R22bn in health corruption

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President Cyril Ramaphosa said he got a “wake-up call” during the recent election campaigning when he discovered how many of the billions of rands allocated to health was targeted by fraudsters, with losses now estimated at R22bn, reports Eyewitness News

Separately, National Prosecuting Authority head Shamila Batohi has called on Ramaphosa to “urgently” address the lack of capacity within the NPA and Hawks, which because of budgetary constraints was the biggest challenge to investigating and prosecuting, reports News24.

Ramaphosa was speaking at the launch of the Health Sector Anti-Corruption Forum, a collaboration between law enforcement, the private sector, and civil society, reports Eyewitness News. Corruption in the health sector cost lives and affected poor people the most, Ramaphosa said.

At the forum, enforcement agencies said they were already dealing with cases in all nine provinces. The President said the focus would now be on prevention to ensure new initiatives, like the National Health Insurance (NHI), succeed.

Ramaphosa commended the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and NPA for the cases they were already investigating and prosecuting. He said he was aware that they needed to be capacitated to handle commercial crimes.

The President’s comments came a day after the Competition Commission released its findings on healthcare providers in the private sector. The commission’s inquiry found that health practitioners had been sending patients to private hospitals unnecessarily, just because medical schemes would pay.

Meanwhile, the SIU and NPA have vowed to deal with officials working in public and private healthcare who had been looting the sector, according to another Eyewitness News article. Cases already under investigation and in the courts include looting through the process to procure X-ray and oncology machines, as well as the building of hospitals.

SIU head Advocate Andy Mothibi said: ‘As we’ve always indicated, we’ll deal with corruption in the public and private sector.’

Corruption in the health sector cost lives and affected poor people the most, Ramaphosa said at the launch of the Forum in Tshwane. The forum is a collaboration between law enforcement, the private sector, and civil society to deal with losses now estimated at R22bn, reports Eyewitness News. Law enforcement agencies said they were already dealing with cases in all nine provinces. Ramaphosa said he got a wake-up call during the recent elections campaigning when he discovered how many of the billions of rands allocated to health was targeted by fraudsters.

The President said the focus would now be on prevention to ensure new initiatives, like the National Health Insurance (NHI), succeed. Ramaphosa commended the SIU and NPA for the cases they were already investigating and prosecuting. He said he was aware that they needed to be capacitated to handle commercial crimes.

The SIU and the NPA have vowed to deal with officials working in public and private healthcare who had been looting the sector, says another Eyewitness News report. Cases already under investigation and in the courts include looting through the process to procure X-ray and oncology machines, as well as the building of hospitals.

At least R22bn is believed to have been misappropriated.

The anti-corruption forum said it was coming for all those who had their hands in the cookie jar in all the provinces. SIU head advocate Andy Mothibi said: “As we’ve always indicated, we’ll deal with corruption in the public and private sector.”

Batohi said the role of the NPA within the forum would be to ensure that cases arising from the forum’s work would receive the necessary attention. News24 reports that she said she was pleased that co-operation between the various stakeholders had improved. “Bear in mind that the NPA does not investigate and that these matters are investigated by the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation – the Hawks.”

Batohi, however, lamented the lack of capacity within the NPA and Hawks, calling on the president to address this. She said the biggest challenge to investigating and prosecuting was capacity in the NPA and Hawks.

The Forum was established following the historic signing of the Presidential Health Summit 2018 Compact, which mandated government and social partners to work together to reform the healthcare system. Polity reports that stakeholders include the NPA, Section27, Corruption Watch, the SIU, the Portfolio Committee on Health and the Health Department.

“The forum will help to curb corruption as we are also signing a terms of reference which is one of the critical steps in transforming the health sector in South Arica. This is part of the concrete steps our country should and will be taking to reduce collusion. It is concerning that the money spent in the sector does not amount to the outcomes.

He said this area was plagued with tender irregularities, bribery and fraudulent activities. National Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said he was grateful for the launch because it would help his department curb the loss of funds.

Curbing the “loss of funds” resulting from “lucrative” “tender irregularities”, “bribery” and “fraud” across SA’s public health sector will be one of the “key” tasks of the forum (Engineering News), reports Pam Saxby for Legalbrief Policy Watch. Conceived during last year’s presidential health summit and giving practical effect to one of the commitments made in a stakeholder compact signed in July, the forum is expected to go some way towards addressing the supply-side challenges bedevilling the delivery of healthcare services at state-run hospitals and clinics.

This is noting that the necessary ‘preventative measures’ should be in place well in advance of national health insurance (NHI) implementation so that the system is adequately “protected” from practices that could see it derailed.

According to Ramaphosa, “fears that the NHI fund will become a target for criminals must be taken seriously” (SABC News). The President also referred to concerns about patients ‘paying for services … meant to be free’ and “doctors and nurses … moonlighting instead of working where they … (are) required”.

In addition, the forum will be expected to tackle “collusion, price fixing and … lack of accountability” in the private healthcare sector, which was found during the Competition Commission’s recent inquiry to be ‘over-servicing’ consumers and ‘over-pricing’ products in some markets.

Mkhize has apparently referred to these as the “big issues” requiring attention as his department rolls out NHI (Engineering News). The “availability” of many practising doctors is also a concern

As the Forum gets to work, state lawyers who have deliberately lost cases so government would pay millions in medical claims to fraudsters, would not be spared, Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery said. Eyewitness News reports that Jeffery said at the Forum’s launch that stakeholders in the health sector have been colluding in corruption and they were aided by state lawyers.

“We’re all familiar with the ongoing investigations by the SIU into collusion between the persons suing government hospitals for malpractice and certain state attorneys who either settle cases that have no merit or deliberately lose cases.” Jeffery said the arrest of a lawyer in the Eastern Cape was just the beginning.

First Eyewitness News report Second Eyewitness News report News24 report Polity report Legalbrief Policy Watch report Further Eyewitness News report

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