SIU: Corruption is 'part of health sector's DNA'

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Corruption is rife within South African health sector institutions such as the state laboratory service, the health professions council and the product oversight authority, says the head of the Special Investigations Unit.

“There is corruption in the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), there is corruption within the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) with the registration of doctors. There is corruption within the health sector product authority when it comes to products entering the market inappropriately,” says Advocate Andy Mothibi, head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

Corruption has always been rife in the health sector. COVID-19 just hoisted the flag. The Times reports that this is according to Mothibi, who was speaking during a webinar on Health Sector Anti-Corruption Forum (HSACF).

The report says that the SIU hosted the webinar in partnership with Corruption Watch, the Health Funders Association, The Daily Maverick and The Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism.

Mothibi said their observation over the years was that there were a lot of investigations in the health sector. He said there was a “measure of impunity”, with people “just really expecting that nothing will happen to them”.

“The tide is turning when we look at criminal cases and civil litigation,” said Mothibi, who added that what has been lacking was the proper monitoring of the sector. “There need to be clear monitoring and clear auditing measure put in place to detect future abuse,” he said.

Mothibi said the procurement processes in the health sector is riddled with maladministration and pointed out that almost everything in the health sector has some elements of corruption. Mothibi said with their investigations, they want to ensure that people's lives are taken care of by a competent system free of corruption.

 

The bank account of Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku is one of the 44 accounts that will remain frozen until matters are finalised by the Special Tribunal, which has delayed the scheduled hearing on the matter to November. A TimesLIVE report says the Special Tribunal was meant to hear arguments in the matter between the SIU and Gauteng-based contractors involved in the implementation of the supply and delivery of COVID-19 personal protection equipment.

Judge Billy Mothle postponed the hearing to 20 and 21 November because some respondents were not ready. He expressed the desire to start proceedings as soon as possible after some respondents requested a date in December. “An order was made in August and all respondents had five days to state if they were opposing the order. They also had an additional 15 days to file answering affidavits,” Mothle said.

Before postponing the hearing, the judge granted all 44 respondents until 12 October to file their papers. “After this date I’m not accepting any affidavits,” he said. He also cautioned that all respondent should file their heads of argument no later than 28 October. “I want to finish this matter before the end of November,” he said.

Before adjourning, the judge heard that there was a mistake when banks froze all the accounts and not those affected by the interim order. Mothle clarified that freezing bank accounts of respondents is applicable only to the extent specified in the order. “If a respondent has one account, the banks are only allowed to freeze the amount specified in the order,” he explained. He ordered his administrators to amend the order and the SIU to communicate with banks.

 

Former Gauteng Health Department chief financial officer (CFO) Kabelo Lehloenya challenged the SIU decision to freeze her pension fund in the Special Tribunal sitting in the Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg).

A Cape Times report says Lehloenya is among the 40 applicants who asked the Special Tribunal not to make final the interim order obtained in August by the SIU. Among the applicants are Thandisizwe Diko – the husband of President Cyril Ramphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko. The SIU also obtained an interim order to freeze the bank account of Royal Bhaca Projects – a company 100% owned by Thandisizwe – following allegations that it was awarded multimillion-rand PPE tenders. Diko has since denied the allegations but has to approach the court to reverse the interim order against him.

Meanwhile, the SIU plans on filing an application in the Special Tribunal to freeze the pension funds of former Gauteng Health head of department Professor Mkhululi Lukhele, following his resignation on Friday. The Cape Times report says this was revealed by SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago, but the date for the application has yet to be set by the investigators. He said they were planning to make an application to freeze the funds to ensure that if a decision was taken to recover money from Lukhele after completion of criminal investigations, they are able to do so from his pension fund.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura placed Lukhele on precautionary suspension on Wednesday, saying he was acting on the recommendation of the SIU. Clarifying the reasons for the suspension, Makhura said Lukhele did not personally commit acts of corruption. Instead, he had failed to act against malfeasance as an accounting officer in Gauteng Health.

 

The fate of suspended Masuku will be known by Friday at the latest, The Times reports the provincial government confirmed. This comes as Makhura indicated that he had been receiving regular updates from the SIU on the investigation into procurement irregularities regarding PPE.

Makhura's office said he had received a new report on Masuku's involvement, which would soon be made public.

Spokesperson Thabo Masebe said: “The premier is giving due consideration to the latest SIU report and further announcements will be made by Friday on the findings, recommendations and appropriate course of action to be taken.”

The report says Masuku was instructed to take leave of absence in connection with the awarding of PPE tenders to companies linked to his friends on 30 July.

 

Non-profit advocacy organisation Right2Know Campaign (R2K) held a peaceful picket on Saturday, outside the Health Department office, in Johannesburg, in a show of dismay against coronavirus (COVID-19) corruption, reports Polity. Despite government spending R10bn to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers, R2K says many have died owing to lack of PPEs, while others have not received their monthly stipends.

Makhura placed Lukhele on suspension after he was found to have failed to exercise his responsibilities in awarding the contracts to certain companies.

R2K said it was concerned that this has not landed Lukhele in prison and said those who colluded with him, in the private and public sectors, should be declared delinquent.

 

Lukhele, is to “consult” with his legal team this week on a way forward, after he resigned from his position subsequent to his suspension last week. Lukhele reportedly told City Press he could not go into detail about his plans pertaining to allegations that he had, as the head of department, “failed to exercise his responsibility in the awarding of contracts to certain companies … in relation to the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,’ which led to his ‘precautionary suspension”.

“I am seeing my (legal) team and because the matter is sub judice, perhaps it will only be proper for me to give my side of the story once the matter has been cleared.”

Lukhele’s suspension was announced by Makhura on Thursday, after an investigation by the SIU. However, Lukhele handed in his resignation a day after he was suspended.

 

Full report in The Times

 

Full TimesLIVE report

 

Full Cape Times report (subscription needed)

 

Full report in The Times

 

Full Polity report

 

Full City Press report

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