Suspended NW Health head signed contract ‘against legal advice’

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The suspended head of North West Health, Thabo Lekalakala, signed the controversial three-year R180m mobile clinic contract with Gupta-linked company Mediosa three days after an internal legal opinion advised him against doing so.

City Press reports that this has been revealed by provincial Health MEC Dr Magome Masike, who shared his “painful” experience of feeling “powerless” while watching his department deteriorate to the point of collapse amid alleged corruption and tender irregularities.

It was reported earlier this year that Mediosa received an upfront payment of R30m before it did any work. Mediosa paid for a trip to India for Lekalakala, his wife and another couple about two months before the advance payment was made.

Lekalakala is also under investigation for “misrepresentation” following allegations that he lied when applying for the job, which required the candidate to have been a chief director, a position he had allegedly not held before.

The report says responding to the allegations, Lekalakala said: “I have been a career public servant since 1999 and I am satisfied that my credentials are impeccable.” But under Lekalakala’s watch, the department spent millions on private ambulance services despite having about 40 brand-new ambulances at hand. Masike said a preliminary report into problems in the department blamed Lekalakala for the mess and recommended criminal charges against him.

Lekalakala was “shocked” by the report. “I have not been charged despite a media release saying that I should be charged together with other officials. The Hawks have not contacted me,” he said.

The report says Masike accused Lekalakala of “defiance”, saying Lekalakala had not provided him with reports he asked for and had refused to obey “legal instructions”. Masike said he didn’t know who instructed Lekalakala to sign dubious contracts. Lekalakala responded by saying: “All people who needed to receive regular reports received them.”

Masike said the preliminary report found that the North West Health Department paid Mediosa far more than the company was paid by the Free State. “There was an advance payment to Mediosa in the Free State, but we paid about three times more. Mediosa was charging us R954 per patient but was charging less than that in the Free State,” he said.
Mediosa’s contract has been terminated.

About the ambulance contract, Masike said: “The contract was awarded procedurally until the problem arose when the company’s scope of work was extended. (Ambulance company) Buthelezi Emergency Medical Service was contracted to handle priority patients or more serious cases, but later went for everything, including cases the department was able to take, and that meant bigger invoices from the company.”

Masike said he had no power to intervene and “refused to be part of corruption”. “I have been a medical doctor for 32 years and I was not going to risk my career and reputation. All I did was ask for reports … but nothing came. I did not know where else to go,” he said.

City Press report

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