Esidimeni: Mahlangu's sums do not add up, says finance official

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Esidimeni: Mahlangu's sums do not add up, says finance official

Doubt cast over Gauteng health MEC's testimony

Katharine Child

The Gauteng department of health spent R60-million on lawyers in 2015, the same year it decided to shut down Life Esidimeni clinics to cut costs, it emerged at arbitration hearings on Tuesday. , ten months to work out how to reduce medical negligence cases and R435-000 on a two-day McKinsey workshop, in the same year -2015 -it was allegedly trying to cut costs by ending the Life Esidimeni contract.
The R60-million was paid to lawyers over 10 months to work out how to reduce medical negligence cases against the department, according to its 2015 annual report. Another R435 000 was spent in the following year on a two-day McKinsey workshop. 
Gauteng finance MEC Barbara Creecy testified on Tuesday to give insight into the Gauteng health department's finances. Some 1 700 mentally ill patients were moved from three psychiatric homes in 2015 to ill-equipped non-governmental organisations, causing at least 143 deaths. The closure of the Life Esidimeni clinics lead to the mo143 deaths of psychiatric patients moved 
which aim to find out why 1700 mentally -ill patients were moved from three psychiatric homes into ill-equipped NGOs, leading to the deaths of 143 patients.Creecy's testimony on Tuesday seemed to be in contrast to what Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu told the hearings last week. Gauteng MEC for finance, Barbara Creecy testified at the hearings in order to give insight into the Gauteng department of health's finances.
Her testimony starkly contrasted with the recent testimony of former Gauteng MEC for health, Qedani Mahlangu.Mahlangu and at least three other senior officials testified, under oath, that the contract with Life Esidimeni was cancelled for financial reasons — to reduce the roughly R260-million that was being spent on the homes.
Mahlangu said: "There are competing needs in the department ...  You rob Peter to pay Paul at any point in time."
But advocate for Section 27, Adila Hassim pointed out that when the department was cutting costs, llegedly cost cutting, it continued to spend huge amounts of money on consultants.  
Creecy said she could not "justify" or explain this.
"I am not convinced the Esidimeni project was a cost saving exercise," she testified. She has testified that treasury also demanded that all departments including health must spend less on consultants.
Creecy was only made aware on Friday that she was to testify but spent the weekend finding documents, budgets, meeting minutes and presentations that slowly dismantled Mahlangu's arguments about why Esidimeni happened.
The finance MEC concluded that: "I am not convinced the project was a cost saving exercise".
Creecy said that, from 2014, national Treasury instructed all departments to cut back on entertainment, travel, communications, catering and venues for events.  But she insisted no one was asked to cut back on social spending.
"Treasury never demanded any department to cut core services," said Creecy, to the applause of family members of the deceased who attended the hearings.
The families at the hearings applauded.
In a lengthy exchange with Hassim about the poor state of Gauteng health finances, Creecy said provincial treasury was concerned about irregular spending in the department of health — including R1,6-billion in irregular spending that is now under investigation by the Special Investigating Unit.  
Mahlangu, when she testified last week, said the auditor general was concerned that the department of health had a single contract with Life Esidimeni from 1979 and that was another reason why the contract was ended. and so it was ended.
But Creecy said she searched through files dating back to 2013 to see if the auditor general had raised written complaints about this and could find nothing of the sort.
Creecy said: "We found no evidence that the auditor general was concerned about supply chain services in relation to Life Esidimeni."
Gauteng Premier David Makhura also testified at the hearings on Tuesday, and started by addressing Mahlangu saying it was a "collective decision" to end the Life Esidimeni contract.
also began his testimony debunking what Mahlangu had said.
Mahlangu repeatedly said it was a "collective" decision" to end the Life Esidimeni contract.
In his opening remarks Makhura referenced this:  " "The Constitution emphasises we are collectively and individually accountable ... Accountability can't [just] be collective, it must be individual," said Makhura.

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