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Free State Health HoD still in charge despite corruption charges

Despite Free State Health Department head Godfrey Mahlatsi facing corruption charges, he is still in the job, and while new Premier Mxolisi Dukwana vowed that the province would no longer be the breeding ground for corruption, observers say he is “all talk and no action”.

On his appointment, Dukwana had said that those who are charged “must at least be suspended from office”, and that this applied to all provincial government departments, not only health, writes Refilwe Mochoari in Spotlight.

However, sceptics say he “only wants to be seen as a person who fights corruption for the purpose of elections”, despite saying it was “imperative we restore the integrity and credibility of our government”.

No place for corrupt officials

After being sworn in on 24 February, Dukwana had told Spotlight that officials with pending corruption cases against them and those attending court cases would be looked into as one of the new administration’s “key priorities”.

On the subject of Mahlatsi still being in his post, Dukwana said: “We have people who are not charged but are not doing what they are supposed to do yet they are getting salaries and all other benefits, so we need to look into all of these things.”

Mahlatsi had been acting as HoD since 2020. Former Premier Sisi Ntombela permanently appointed him in 2021 despite the corruption allegations hanging over him.

Mahlatsi was probed by the Special Investigating Unit for alleged PPE tender fraud relating to R39m awarded by the provincial Treasury while he was the HoD in that department. The tenders were handed to 32 service providers who supplied sub-standard surgical gowns to the department.

SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the investigation was now being handled by the NPA.

Responding to the Premier’s statements, Mahlatsi said: “I am an employee of government and the Premier is my employer. If he decides to take any steps … it is his right.”

Apart from the SIU investigation, Mahlatsi and former Health HoD David Motau – who has since been fired as registrar of the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) – and 10 other officials in the provincial Health Department face charges of fraud, corruption, forgery and money laundering, which led to an R8.7m loss to the department.

They appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court in August 2021 and have been on bail since.

Spokesperson for the NPA in the Free State Pheladi Shuping said the court case was pending, that a pre-trial conference was held on 13 February and would continue on 22 March.

Cleaning house

Newly appointed ANC provincial spokesperson Jabu Mbalula said building an ethical public service cannot happen if there are questionable people with questionable standing running the government. “Ethics, and building an ethical public service, are very important to us as the ANC, so those issues have to be addressed,” he told Spotlight.

Dukwana said the provincial government prioritised the implementation of lifestyle audits in accordance with regulatory framework.

“However, we are not satisfied with our progress and will secure external assistance to accelerate these audits,” he said.

Change of MEC?

While Dukwana was quite firm about the corrupt officials’ fate, he would not be drawn on the fate of provincial Health MEC Montseng Tsiu.

After the election of the new provincial ANC leadership in January where Dukwana unseated Sisi Ntombela as provincial chair, it was expected that Ntombela and several MECs, including Tsiu, would be recalled.

Ntombela has since resigned.

Asked about Tsiu, Dukwana said nothing has been confirmed, and on the performance of the Health Department so far, he warned against focusing on only one department.

“The issue is, do we have an executive council that works together and makes sure that all other things are done to get what we want as a province?

“The Department of Health is important but without proper roads, ambulances will not be able to arrive at their destination. Without water and electricity, hospitals are not able to deliver quality health services. Everything is interlinked. Without proper people working and providing services, you won’t have a properly functioning department.

“So we need to focus on how we bring about community-centred services to our people and make sure that health is not only when you go to hospital. We should deal with other things to create a healthy society.”

‘All talk, no action’

But some opposition parties remain sceptical. DA provincial chairperson Roy Jankielsohn said the party would hold Dukwana accountable for his statements on corruption.

“We don’t think he will stick to his word because the people who are accused of corruption are from his own party – the ANC. And we are still led by the same old corrupt ANC with corrupt officials.”

Jankielsohn said what was needed was for people with the right qualifications and skills to be appointed to government positions.

“There is no element of him (Dukwana) being genuine about all of this,” EFF provincial chairperson Coach Liphoko told Spotlight.

“He is only pushing a political campaign for the 2024 elections. The corrupt people belong to his party and he was supposed to act immediately when he took office but right now it is all talk and no action.”

Liphoko said he expected that Dukwana will not act on Mahlatsi. “He knows the culprits of corruption, including those who were involved in the Vrede Dairy project and they are still occupying office. So no, the Premier only wants to be seen as a person who fights corruption for the purpose of elections.”

Nursing union Denosa’s provincial secretary Brian Motshabi said they supported the Premier in fighting corruption. “We hope he will fast-track the process as we have seen the impact of corruption on health services, which has collapsed, and all individuals who are implicated must account.”

 

Spotlight article – No place for corrupt officials in Free State, says new premier (Creative Commons Licence)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Free State hospitals: patient waits 7 months for surgery, others sleep in chairs

 

Criminal charges laid against four public health sector heads

 

Free State and Limpopo Health officials in court for fraud

 

DA claims healthcare collapsing in Free State and Eastern Cape

 

Report shows deteriorating conditions at Free State clinics

 

 

 

 

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