Update: Unfurnished Gauteng health department head offices’ lines cut off
The provincial government has thrown its support behind the MEC and established a special committee to resolve the matter.
A furniture remover sits in front of the Gauteng Department of Health head office on Sauer Street, Johannesburg waiting to execute a court order to remove furniture. This comes after the department failed to pay R6.1 million to the mother of five-year-old Lethabo Matlawa who suffered brain damage at birth due to a lack of oxygen at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. Picture: Valentina Nicol
The financial crisis at the Gauteng department of health has reached new proportions, and now their office phones have been cut off.
Gauteng DA shadow Health MEC Jack Bloom alleges Telkom took the severe decision to stop offering services to the department after almost half a year of nonpayment by the department. Bloom alleged this was partly because the department was underpaying service providers by about R50 million a month due to budgetary constraints.
The latest blow to the head offices of the department, headed by former Tshwane mayor Dr Gwendoline Ramokgopa, follows last month’s embarrassing attachment of furniture in the head office by a creditor due to nonpayment. The furniture was removed to pay a R6.2-million medical negligence award.
Bloom alleged employees had been sent to the Tshwane regional offices so they would not report for duty in Johannesburg because of the lack of office furniture at the head office. He said with the phone lines cut off, staffers could not make or receive calls, and had to exclusively rely on cellphones to communicate with stakeholders.
When The Citizen tried contacting several numbers listed on the departmental website, an automated response diligently announced: “The number you have dialled is currently not in service.” Compounding the matter was spokesperson Prince Hamnca’s cellphone being off the rest of the morning.
Bloom apportioned the blame for the department’s financial complications to accruals from the previous financial year of about R6 billion.
“They’ve got debts from years ago. They are underpaying their service providers by about R50 million per month. They say they give priorities to small businesses, they haven’t paid Telkom as well as VOIP [voice-over internet] service provider.
“It’s a financial crisis, and they will run out of money before the end of the year. They are in contravention of legal orders. Various suppliers, including lawyers, have not been paid. Employees find themselves committing medical negligence due to the breakdown of machinery,” Bloom said.
Bloom also claimed in March this year the department owed R1.23 billion in late payments to 808 companies that had not been paid within the legally required period of 30 days.
Bheki Mlangeni Hospital in Jabulani also telephonically unreachable
The state-of-the-art Bheki Mlangeni Hospital in Soweto also had its lines cut off. The Citizen is awaiting a response from Telkom regarding how many other public healthcare facilities in the province were facing similar problems.
Gauteng provincial government spokesperson Thabo Masebe told The Citizen that Gauteng Premier David Makhura was extremely concerned about this matter, and during a recent provincial executive committee meeting, an intervention was effected.
“It was decided that an executive council special committee chaired by MEC for finance [Barbara Creecy], MEC for Cogta [Paul Mashatile] and MEC Dr Ramokgopa work together to find solution to this matter and report back
“The matter is already at that level. This was not a problem created by the MEC, she made a request to the executive council to get help to stabilise the department. The Gauteng provincial government will not allow a situation where the department is not able to discharge its duties,” Masebe added.
Meanwhile, in the process of contacting officials, The Citizen has learnt that most provincial government offices’ staff members could not report for duty this morning due to a cable-theft incident, which has rendered most parts of the CBD without power. City Power has so far restored 40% of power supply, with the rest expected to be done tomorrow.