Supra in State capture spotlight

2018-02-25 06:00
North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo. (Tiro Ramatlhatse, Gallo Images, Sowetan, file)

North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo. (Tiro Ramatlhatse, Gallo Images, Sowetan, file)

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Premier Supra Mahumapelo’s province is in the cross hairs of the state capture investigation after it emerged that he authorised a trip for senior North West health officials to India – paid for by a Gupta-linked company.

Mahumapelo announced on Friday that he would subject himself to a lifestyle audit. On the same day, provincial health department head Thabo Lekalakala revealed in a joint standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) and health portfolio committee meeting that the premier authorised a trip to India for him and other officials to see Gupta-linked company Mediosa’s high-tech mobile clinic service.

Members of the provincial legislature, from both the health committee and Scopa, tried to squeeze the truth out of Lekalakala in the 13-hour, all-night meeting that began on Wednesday evening.

Committee members left the legislature building on Thursday morning and opened a case with the Hawks. Members of the police unit were at the health department’s offices hours later and left with documents.

During the marathon meeting, of which City Press has a recording, it emerged that while the department was still supposed to be considering whether to engage Mediosa’s services, its senior officials left for India.

The trip took place five days after Mediosa submitted its first invoice of R30 million – without having done any work.

The department said its contract with Mediosa started in February last year – before the trip to India the following month – and was supposed to have informed its decision whether to hire them. But by then, Mediosa had already sent its first bill.

Department's lies

The department lied to City Press earlier this month when it said it had set R50 million aside for its three-year contract with Mediosa, but strangely added that the company was paid R36 million in eight months. The department paid the company’s first R30 million invoice in May, before it had done any work. Mediosa only started work in October.

During his grilling, Lekalakala admitted to MPLs that, in fact, R180 million had been set aside for the three-year project, for four mobile clinics, and that the contract did not include medical supplies. He said the department supplied the medicines.

But Health MEC Magome Masike told the committee he only launched one mobile unit late last year, in Southey village in the Kagisano-Molopo Local Municipality and another in Setlagole, in the Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality.

Lekalakala tried to convince the committee that there were two mobile clinics in each of these two areas. When the members asked him to provide the vehicle's registration details, he couldn’t do so.

He could not provide the department’s service level agreement with Mediosa. It was not in his office but “kept safe” in a place he could not reveal, he said.

Committee members expressed concern that Mediosa – and not the department – paid for the four-day trip to India. Lekalakala and his deputy director-general Kgosi Motlhabane were part of the delegation.

Lekalakala admitted he took along his wife, and a family friend and his wife. However, he insisted at the meeting that he paid for his wife and that the other couple paid their own expenses.

Committee members weren’t buying it. During his grilling, Lekalakala apologised for accepting the trip.

“This was never intended to be a private trip. I’m sure we made a mistake by accepting an offer to do that,” Lekalakala said.

“I think, in hindsight, we should not have accepted payment for that particular trip. It’s a mistake on my side and therefore I accept ...”

MEC ‘knew nothing’

Those close to Masike said he had very little say in his department’s affairs. In the meeting, doubts were raised about whether Masike was aware of the Mediosa contract. Mahumapelo placed the provincial health department under administration three years ago.

Lekalakala told the meeting he did not brief Masike when he returned from his “fact-finding mission”, nor did he submit a report about it to him.

“I think we thought we’d write a report ... I think (due to) the pressure of time when we came back, it slipped our mind. I am very sorry about it.”

Mahumapelo announced on Wednesday that he had instituted a forensic investigation into the Mediosa contract following City Press’s expose.

His spokesperson Brian Setswambung confirmed that Mahumapelo signed permission for such trips after an MEC had recommended it.

“In this case MEC Masike had recommended that the premier grants permission for Lekalakala’s trip,” he said.

Under questioning by the committee, Masike said: “No one can leave the country without the premier’s authorisation.”

Other questionable contracts

The new forensic investigation will look into other controversial North West health contracts with two companies: Buthelezi and High Care Emergency Medical Service (EMS) – which City Press exposed this week.

The committee heard that the department had paid R163 million – or R16.3 million a month – to the companies since April last year while provincial ambulances are gathering dust.

Health portfolio committee member Motlalepule Rosho told the committee that Buthelezi billed R50 000 for a 63km trip for a patient from Ventersdorp to Potchefstroom. High Care EMS had charged R13 000 for a 60km trip from Morokweng to Ganyesa. Rosho rejected this as a “money-making scheme”. She said there was a case where Buthelezi charged R100 000 for a 105km helicopter trip from Atamelang to Bophelong Hospital, Mahikeng.

“We’re very clear that we’re not for privatisation of health services, worst of all for emergency services,” Rosho said.

The Economic Freedom Fighters’ committee member Papiki Babuile said the department’s paramedics “go to work to just sit. They are reduced to cheque collectors”.

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