North West parks 40 new ambulances, blows millions on private ones

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New ambulances parked at the North West health department offices for the past three months, waiting to be registered and licensed. Picture: Poloko Tau/City Press
New ambulances parked at the North West health department offices for the past three months, waiting to be registered and licensed. Picture: Poloko Tau/City Press

Almost 40 brand-new state ambulances have been parked in the sun for more than three months while the North West health department spends millions on private ambulances every month.

This is allegedly to create space for private ambulance owners to make more money while wheels have been turning very slowly on the department’s main project of buying more ambulances every financial year to increase its fleet.

Health MEC Dr Magome Masike said in an interview with Motsweding FM earlier on Monday that “ideally” the province needs around 350 ambulances to operate efficiently but their fleet was at only around 60.

About 30 new, branded ambulances are parked at the department’s provincial head office in Mahikeng and about 12 are parked at a Rustenburg hospital.

Officials in the department said two private ambulance companies were paid millions a month to ferry patients.

The private ambulances were awarded inter-facility contracts to transport patients between health institutions while about 60 state-owned ambulances were responsible for house calls and accident scenes.

The Buthelezi Emergency Medical Service (EMS) was paid not less than R10 million every month while High Care EMS was allegedly making about R4 million a month on two ambulances carrying about 400 patients every month in the Ganyesa area, officials said.

However, City Press is in possession of documents showing that High Care was paid about R14 million over seven months last year – which is about R2 million a month.

This was denied by the department. It said about R45 million was spent on Buthelezi and High Care for the 2016/2017 financial year (R123 803 a day), and R105 million for the 2017/2018 financial year to date (R280 165 a day).

Buthelezi EMS owner, Thapelo Buthelezi, could not say exactly how much his company was making but denied allegations that he was inflating invoices.

He also denied that he did not meet the requirements of the tender, which sought a company with a base in the area of operation.

Buthelezi said he was awarded the contract “fairly” because he already had a footprint in the province through contracts with Tshepong Hospital in Klerksdorp and a service level agreement with the North West EMS since 2009.

“The problem here is that other private ambulance owners are having a problem with me but I was awarded the contract fairly and based on merit and was already working for the department,” he said.

Ideally, the province needed about 350 ambulances to operate efficiently but its fleet was at only about 60, officials said.

Meanwhile, City Press reported recently that this department paid a Gupta-linked company, Mediosa, R30 million in advance for a mobile clinic service without going to tender last year.

Read: Gupta friends in state’s health pie

Masike said although communities were benefiting from private ambulances and the mobile clinic, he was not happy with the procurement process and the huge amounts of money paid to these service providers.

Masike said in the radio interview that inter-facility transportation had improved amid occasional complaints that the money paid to Buthelezi was “too much”, adding that they were “worried about the money they are paid”.

Officials in the department said a new ambulance costs about R500 000.

“Money spent on private ambulances every month can easily be used to purchase at least 20 ambulances but fewer than 40 ambulances were bought in the current financial year. Money for ambulances is going to private owners,” an official said.

“All these millions while new ambulances remained parked and for only one reason which is to allow private operators to make even more money,” one senior departmental official said.

This was denied by departmental spokesperson, Tebogo Lekgethwane, who said those ambulances were handed over to the department of transport for registration and e-fuel chips.

“How can they say they are waiting for another department for registration? I mean what happened to synergy where departments are supposed to work together to ensure effective service delivery?” asked EFF member of provincial legislature, Alfred Motsi,

who believed there was more to it.

“The reason why this department was placed under administration was for those in political leadership to have direct control over the budget and tenders. Clearly there was no intention to turn things around but they saw a get-rich-quick scheme opportunity in an ailing department,” he said.

Department is ‘broke’

Mediosa was paid R30 million before its mobile clinic hit the road to rural areas but it has emerged that the department was too broke to pay many other service providers.

City Press is in possession of a letter to service providers signed by the department’s chief financial officer, BH Maleka, on February 9 2018, in which he pleaded with service providers to bear with them.

In the letter, the department “apologises for not being able to pay your company for the remainder of this 2017/18 financial year which ends in March due to insufficient budget”.

“Your company’s invoices will be paid in April/May,” the letter reads.

This is the same department of health which last year tabled a budget of R10.5 billion. It was placed under administration more than two years ago as a remedy to its financial and general administration problems.

Masike acknowledged his department’s budget constraints today, adding that it was also a reason why some service providers could not be paid.

Call for probe

Meanwhile, Premier Supra Mahumapelo’s office announced today that there would be a forensic investigation in the department following all the recent controversies.

Mahumapelo’s spokesperson said the “investigation will cover Mediosa, inter-facility transfers including Buthelezi EMS and other procurement related matters raised by the public”.

Mahumapelo was quoted as saying: “We can’t fold our arms when serious allegations are being raised by the public about dealings in the department of health. We have instituted a forensic investigation and the report will help us understand what the situation in that department is,” remarked Mahumapelo.

Masike said earlier today that there were three companies that were busy investigating missing funds in the department and that Buthelezi was also part of their probe.

The health portfolio committee in the province has asked the department to come and explain all these allegations tomorrow.

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