By Valencia Talane
KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo this week revealed the results of an intensified effort within his department to fight fraud and corruption during his department’s budget vote speech. Four years and 241 investigated cased later, the task team mandated to rid the department of bad apples deserves our hero of the week status.
A total of 77 officials were dismissed after being found guilty of fraud of corruption, said Dhlomo, most of them at lower levels of the department’s employment ranks, while 10 were in senior management positions.
As many as 42 resigned from their positions before the investigations into their conduct had been concluded. In some cases, investigations are still pending, with 21 suspensions noted by Dhlomo, who added that another 89 officials had been handed final written warnings as part of the internal disciplinary processes.
“Our strategy and tactics to fight corruption within the department of health now serve as a benchmark and a best practice for other departments in the province,” said Dhlomo.
KZN Health has made headlines over the past few years, particularly over the infamous water purification tender scandal. The case, dubbed the “Amigos” trial, linked former health MEC – now speaker of the legislature – Peggy Nkonyeni, and MEC for Economic Development and Tourism Mike Mabuyakhulu to alleged tender fraud with Gaston Savoi, owner of Intaka Holdings.
Charges against Savoi claim that the businessman, and Uruguayan national, colluded with senior public officials in the health and local government departments to inflate contracts for the supply of water purification and oxygen plants to the provincial government. Although Nkonyeni and Mabuyakhulu had been charged and arrested as part of the investigation, the charges against them were withdrawn in 2012.
In his much-publicised naming and shaming bid earlier this week, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe named businessmen Ansano Romani and Donald Miller, who were both charged in the initial stages of the Amigos case. The two men were part a list of about 20 others who included former KZN Treasury head Sipho Shabalala and several former heads of the provincial health department with racketeering, fraud and money laundering, with a potential cost to the provincial government of R144- million, reported the Mercury this week. The trial continues in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
Turning his focus to institutions under his department’s watch, Dhlomo told the legislature that another form of misconduct – that of “ghost workers” – had become a challenge for his department for some time. To date, the task team had been able to root out as many as 68 such cases in the 12 health institutions that they had audited. Cases of ghost workers occur when employees are invented and their details are fed into the payroll system as if they are legitimate.
The point of this is usually for a group of individuals to share in the spoils of the ghost worker, such as a monthly salary. Dhlomo did not mention whether disciplinary action had been taken against anyone in relation to these findings.
From a supply chain management point of view, the MEC highlighted irregular procurement process undertaken at Addington Hospital. “To further enhance our efforts to fight fraud and corruption, we have established district supply management teams to assist in our efforts to reduce irregular expenditure,” said Dhlomo.