Chopper ride: MEC cleared

2015-03-31 00:00

PUBLIC Protector Thuli Madonsela has exonerated KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo over allegations he abused his authority when he was transported in an emergency helicopter in 2012.

In the report released yesterday, the public protector called for the KZN Health Department head to take immediate action to review the contract between the department and the Red Cross Trust to make provision for a separate helicopter to cater for non-medical emergencies.

Dhlomo used Durban’s only emergency helicopter to get to a meeting in Hlabisa, on the same day Asheen Maharaj (15) and his family were in an accident that claimed the lives of his sister, father and mother.

Asheen needed to be airlifted to hospital; however, paramedics transported him by road when the helicopter was not available. He was declared brain dead and died in hospital days later.

The public protector’s report detailed the complaint submitted by DA MPL Sizwe Mchunu, alleging that Dhlomo had acted in violation of the Constitution and the Executive Ethics Code by using the helicopter.

The public protector found that Dhlomo’s conduct was not in violation of the ethics code.

“I have accepted that MEC Dhlomo bona fide believed it was not wrong to use the emergency medical helicopter as this was part of a long-standing agreement between the department and the Red Cross Trust,” the report read.

It states that the Health Department responded “expeditiously” to the accident in which Asheen was involved.

“There is no evidence that indicates that the emergency medical helicopter that was used by the MEC on the day in question was required for that emergency or any other …

“However the policy is inappropriate as there is a real risk of a person dying because of the emergency medical ambulance being unavailable while being used for administrative purposes.”

Dhlomo responded, saying: “I welcome the report by the public protector. The DA has once again failed to tarnish the image of the ANC.”

Reacting to the report, the DA’s KZN health spokesperson Imran Keeka said: “From a cursory look at the report, it is evident that the MEC exploited loop­holes in a poorly put together contract with the helicopter service.

“Further, he used a state resource because someone did not plan his appointments properly. Notwithstanding that, in all of this a life was lost, irrespective of whether the availability of the helicopter would have saved the child or not.

“The public protector’s report gives the MEC a bloody nose in that if the contract was tightened and he planned his jaunts better, this situation would not have arisen in the first place.”

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