Questions are being raised about how the Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku’s four-week absence from work will impact on the province’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Transport MEC Jacob Mamabolo, who has been appointed to act in his position, does not have experience in the medical field.

Masuku has been placed on a leave of absence over his alleged involvement in a controversial tender to supply COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the department.

SABC News Reporter Samkelo Maseko discusses the placing of Bandile Masuku on special leave:

Tender irregularities

Premier David Makhura has said they have since stopped payments of about R1 billion to over 100 companies that are also being investigated following allegations of PPE tender irregularities.

Several Non-Governmental Organisations have expressed disappointment and anger over reports of widespread corruption involving funds meant to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in Gauteng.

In a joint statement, the NGOs, which include the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Corruption Watch, OUTA, and Section 27 say it is troubling that more than  90 companies that received purchase orders from the Department of Health are under investigation.

The organisations have welcomed Makhura’s decision to place MEC Bandile Masuku on leave pending an investigation, over his alleged involvement in a R125 million tender.

“We welcome the decisive action following the allegations of corruption. This is an important step for accountability and in the fight against COVID-19. We have to say though that we’ve seen improvement in Gauteng health under MEC Masuku’s leadership. And we also appreciated his responsiveness to civil society problems that we’ve identified. We do trust that the investigation will be conducted thoroughly and expeditiously so that we can get to the bottom of this,” says a spokesperson for NGO Section 27, Ntsiki Mpulo.

The NGOs have called on Makhura to ensure that the provincial Health Department cooperates fully with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) investigation, for fraudulent contracts to be cancelled and for the alleged stolen money to be recovered.

They also want public servants and businesses engaged in dodgy dealings to face criminal charges.

But Mpulo says they are concerned that Masuku’s absence could impact negatively on the province’s fight against COVID-19. “It is a very distinct possibility, and we hope that the transport MEC will be supported sufficiently in order to deal with the surge as we head into the pick. Health is a mammoth task ordinarily and in the midst of a pandemic, it’s seriously worrying that this kind of corruption is happening first of all, but secondly of all that the stewardship of the department is now left to somebody who doesn’t have any health experience.”

Fraud and corruption

The SA Medical Association (SAMA) has also welcomed Makhura’s stance against fraud and corruption. Chairperson Angelique Coetzee however does not believe Masuku’s absence will weaken Gauteng’s response to the pandemic.

“ No, SAMA doesn’t think it will impact negatively because the team is supposed to know what they are doing, not that we’ve seen great work coming from them, but they should be able to carry on, as Dr. Bandile is not the only working person in that department. But if his absence makes this huge an impact, then what are the other people doing then who’re supposed to work with him as a team.”

Makhura admitted that the advantage of having Masuku as Health MEC is that he is also a doctor, and understands the medical field better. He however says Mamabolo will receive sufficient support.

“ In addition to appointing MEC Mamabolo, I am going to ask the Minister of Health, I have been talking to the Minister of Health on a daily basis, but I also want him to add a technical team to our department. So HOD Lukhele, Prof Lukhele,  the Minister of Health has been requested by me to also send an additional team because I do not want us to go into the peak on any shaky grounds at the Gauteng province.”