Esidimeni bill to rocket. Who will pay it?
Gauteng will have to dig deeper if payouts swell from R160m to about R300m
A total of 150 more families who lost loved ones in the Life Esidimeni tragedy or are related to survivors, have come forward with claims.
This could push the estimated R160-million payout by the Gauteng provincial government to about R300–million, although the new claimants are still being verified.
At the same time, the Gauteng premier’s spokesperson, Thabo Masebe, said there was “no indication that national Treasury will provide money for paying the award”.
The office of the Gauteng premier will foot the R160-million bill for 134 people or families that must be paid by June 19. Masebe said they were on track to pay on time.
He explained: “When Premier David Makhura took responsibility for the tragedy, it meant the entire Gauteng government takes responsibility and the entire government will suffer.”Masebe said the R160-million would be paid out of the premier’s budget initially, but money would later be paid back from the MEC’s budget adjustment and would come from every Gauteng government department.
When asked why different departments were having to foot the Esidimeni bill when the Gauteng department of health was implicated in the scandal, Masebe said: “You may as well as in the end ask why should taxpayer be paying for it?”
He suggested that regardless of which Gauteng departments footed the bill the taxpayer would ultimately be paying because “money comes from the fiscus”.
Some 134 families were represented at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings by Section27, Solidarity and Legal Aid.
Each of the 134 families were awarded R1-million in constitutional damages, because the constitutional rights of mental health patients were violated.The survivors and families of the deceased were also awarded R180,000 in general damages for suffering. Families of the dead received an additional R20,000 for funeral costs.
At arbitration Moseneke said his award would also be open to new families of deceased or survivors who came forward.
The Gauteng office is checking through 150 new applications, said Masebe, and there appeared to be “some duplicates”.
“There are people coming forward for money when other family members have already claimed for it.”
He said there had been some conflict between families over who should receive the payout.
Section 27 earlier arranged support services for some of the 63 families it represented to help them divide the money between relatives.Attorney Sasha Stevenson said: “Where there have been family disputes, we have arranged for pro bono mediation, which has so far been successful. A number of mediations are still coming up.”
It was not specified in the arbitration award how survivors – being institutionalised and in some cases severely mentally ill or intellectually disabled – and their families should share the payouts.
Legal Aid advocate Lilla Crouse, who represented 68 survivors, said families have decided on an individual basis. “Not all decisions are made yet.”She said no money would be paid out until there was clarity on how the money would be allocated to the mental health patients.
“On June 19 we will place the money in interest-bearing accounts and will only pay out once we are certain that there are no disputes and that the mental health care patients are fully protected. This may mean that the money might not reach the claimants on June 19, but they will receive the interest once the money is paid to them.”
Crouse said: “I am not currently aware of conflicts with our clients. There are a few options on the table to protect survivors, like a portion of the money to be paid into the guardian’s fund or into a trust. In circumstances where a curator bonis (legal representative appointed by the court) has been appointed, the money will be paid to the representative and monitored by the Master.”
Masebe also dismissed rumours that health department posts are frozen because of the Esidimeni payout of R160-million.
A number of doctors and nurses told Times Select earlier they were told that doctors and nurses were not being hired because of the payouts.
Masebe said the money for the payouts was initially coming from the premier’s office, not the health department.
He said the health department was not staffing its empty posts because it had cash flow problems, owing to billions of rand in debt and unpaid suppliers.
“The provincial government has a task team working on the cash flow issue, but it is not related to the Esidimeni payouts.”