The Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng on Tuesday said it would push for a high-level speedy investigation into the murder of a senior finance official at the Gauteng health department, Babita Deokaran.
The 53-year-old public servant was among the Special Investigating Unit’s (SIU’s) witnesses into its investigations into contentious multimillion-rand PPE tenders in Gauteng.
Deokaran was gunned down on Monday morning outside her complex in Mondeor, south of Johannesburg, shortly after dropping off her child at school. She later died in hospital.
DA member of the provincial legislature and spokesperson on health, Jack Bloom, on Tuesday said he was “hugely concerned” about Deokaran’s murder, saying her death seemed like an assassination to prevent her from giving key evidence into PPE corruption.
“But I also suspect she uncovered more corruption when she served as acting chief financial officer [CFO] after the departure of the previous CFO Kabelo Lehloenya,” Bloom said in a statement.
The SIU last week instituted civil recovery proceedings against Lehloenya at the Special Tribunal to recover more than R42.8 million for the illegal awarding of PPE procurement contracts.
In turn, Lehloenya lodged a third-party notice seeking to have other department officials, as well as Gauteng Premier David Makhura, personally liable for the PPE scandals. Judgment was reserved in the matter.
Bloom said Deokaran’s murder appeared to be a “well-organised hit” that showed how high the stakes were in the corruption that is being uncovered by the SIU, which probably implicates top political figures as well.
“Deokaran was well-known as an honest and efficient official in a department rife with crooked people who think nothing of stealing money that is needed to fix our ailing hospitals,” he said.
“My deep condolences to her family. It is so sad that good people suffer most while those who rob from the poor will stop at nothing to protect themselves from justice.”
SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago told The Citizen on Tuesday that Deokaran was one of their witnesses, but could not be drawn into speculating on whether her murder was a targeted hit.
“We are very clear that we want to allow the police to do their investigations so that we understand why what happened happened. At this present moment, we are not aware of what the reasons are for the shooting,” Kganyago said.
He also said they were concerned about the safety of their witnesses.
“We have always been concerned about it and in terms of where an indication is brought to us that there is a problem with regards to safety concerns, we intervene. And we have done so with many of our witnesses.”
Gauteng health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi on Monday expressed shock over the murder of Deokaran.
“The Gauteng department of health is at a loss for words at this brutal and tragic passing. Ms Babita Deokaran was an invaluable member of the Gauteng health team, she rose up the ranks in the public service, in the last three decades, after she joined as an accounting clerk,” Mokgethi said in a statement.
Deokaran was the chief director for financial accounting at the provincial health department and at times acted as the CFO.
Mokgethi called on law-enforcement agencies to leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of Deokaran’s murder.