Life Esidimeni: Departments were never told to cut costs, says Creecy

Johannesburg – Gauteng finance MEC Barbara Creecy has told the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing that at no point had provincial treasury told departments that they should cut costs. 

"Treasury has never demanded that any department cut core services," Creecy said on Tuesday.

"The pressure to cut costs was not on core services," she said.

The Life Esidimeni mental health marathon project which was implemented by the department of health was defended by those implicated as a "cost-cutting measure" for non-core services, but Creecy says this could never have been the case. 

She said there was never a decrease in budget for mental health services. 

The termination of the Gauteng health department's contract with Life Esidimeni resulted in mentally ill patients being hurriedly moved to ill-equipped NGOs, leading to the deaths of 144 patients.

'What was this whole obsession about shutting down Life Esidimeni?'

Many died of dehydration and hypothermia and some were allegedly raped at the fraudulently licensed facilities.

Creecy said in November 2014, the provincial budget committee asked former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu if she needed more funds.

"What was this whole obsession about... shutting down Life Esidimeni... to achieve what?" retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke asked. 

"I don't know, justice," Creecy said. 

Creecy said in November 2014 the health department indicated that it wanted to move patients to government institutions. Creecy added that the department was told that it should not compromise the quality of services. 

She also revealed that more than R47m was paid to NGOs and only three NGOs were not paid. 

She said the provincial budget council had declassified a memorandum stating that it was committed to protecting core services while it allocated the power to determine cost savings to departments. 

However, Mahlangu, former head of mental services Makgabo Manamela and former head of department Barney Selebano previously testified that the province's finance department had pressured them to implement cost-savings strategies. 

'What went wrong is the implementation'

Asked if the notion of cost-cutting on core services was foreign to her, Creecy agreed and said the department of health was always offered money. 

Last week during her testimony, Mahlangu said she believed that cancelling the Life Esidimeni contract was not wrong. 

"What went wrong is the implementation or the execution of the project," she said at the time. 

READ MORE: Cancelling Life Esidimeni project was not wrong, says Mahlangu

She told the hearing that she accepted that she had a political responsibility to protect the patients from harm.

She said she also accepted that the department's conduct was inconsistent with the Constitution and the law.

However, Mahlangu would not accept that the cost-cutting exercise her department undertook had resulted in the deaths of 144 mentally ill patients.

"I wouldn't know who died of what... in my documents we sent to the ombudsman we presented the case numbers which were opened [at] the police station."

She said the causes of the deaths were inconclusive.

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