SILENCED | Gauteng health bosses stopped Tembisa Hospital audit on the day of Babita Deokaran's murder

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Babita Deokaran was a corruption whistleblower within the Gauteng Department of Health. She was assassinated in 2021.
Babita Deokaran was a corruption whistleblower within the Gauteng Department of Health. She was assassinated in 2021.
Rudi Louw
  • When corruption whistleblower Babita Deokaran was murdered, a week-long compliance audit of Tembisa Hospital stopped in its tracks.
  • This revelation from Gauteng Health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi came in response to questions before the Gauteng legislature.
  • What they found caused alarm. A News24 investigation titled Silenced details what they overlooked.

The Gauteng health department's internal probe of Tembisa Hospital - set in motion after Babita Deokaran flagged nearly R850 million in dubious payments - was concluded in less than a week, and auditors were pulled out on the day she was assassinated.

This was revealed by Health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi in a written response to questions before the Gauteng legislature this week, as the scandal around the East Rand hospital deepened.

The fleeting review of the hospital's buying spree found that procurement checks and balances were flouted, and control mechanisms to guard against fraud were ineffective.

Budgets were blown. No one faced disciplinary action.

READ | 'Our lives could be in danger: Inside Babita Deokaran's R850m 'fraud' probe

Three weeks before she was murdered, whistleblower Deokaran filed a report in which she identified 217 companies that saw a flood of contracts for the supply of medical supplies, including ventilators and surgical equipment, and recommended an urgent investigation.

Instead, Gauteng health bosses embarked on a random compliance audit of hospitals across the province, and payments to only 12 of the entities identified by Deokaran were scrutinised.

Mokgethi wrote in response to questions from DA health spokesperson Jack Bloom:

This random audit commenced on 17 August 2021, and the team was withdrawn from the institution on 23 August 2021.

Ignored

Behind the decision to ignore Deokaran's call for a focused probe - and instead stage a procurement spot-check - was now suspended health department CFO Lerato Madyo, Mokgethi added.

"This audit was conducted per the CFO's request to ensure compliance with supply chain management and financial policies… and to ensure value for money was achieved."

NEWS24 SPECIAL PROJECT | SILENCED

Oddly, their value for money exercise did not include checking the prices of medical gear purchased during the bonanza.

"Note that a price check was not done and could have resulted in additional findings," an excerpt from the audit report read.

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A News24 investigation, drawing from a trove of Gauteng Department of Health emails and documents obtained through hundreds of company searches, revealed a nexus of entities geared at extracting cash from Tembisa Hospital's coffers.

This, through more than a thousand transactions for medical supplies, most at vastly inflated prices, our analysis indicated.

Shell corporate network

What the Gauteng health department did not find was a network of 45 shell corporations, which existed only on paper, that were paid more than R110 million in the space of two months through hundreds of individual transactions.

In this network was retired soccer star Themba Shabalala and his wife, Evelyn, who through 10 companies raked in R15 million, R498 000 of which was for a shipment of children's skinny jeans. Their companies were all formed on the same day, a month before lucrative Tembisa Hospital contracts were pushed their way.

Part-time call centre agent Christine Signarian and her sound engineer husband Avikash used their 10 companies as a conduit for R30 million.

READ | Tembisa Hospital's R500 000 skinny jean spending spree... and the soccer star who scored

This week, News24 reported that four members of one family and their array of 17 firms scored nearly R55 million in Tembisa Hospital contracts. One of their 152 purchase orders was for the supply of a heavy-duty plastic bucket, normally valued at less than R200.

Tembisa Hospital paid R40 000 for four.

Beyond this, ANC Ekurhuleni boss Sello Sekhokho and the three companies he runs from a house in Edenvale were paid R15 million in three years by the hospital, selling everything from groceries to hospital beds. One company, Kaizen Projects, was one of the first "possibly fraudulent" entities to appear on Deokaran's radar.

He has denied impropriety.

The whistleblower raised her concerns over Kaizen with Madyo, who instructed that they should be paid, and that Deokaran should keep this secret.

Both Madyo and Tembisa Hospital CEO Ashley Mthunzi were suspended last month after the Special Investigating Unit was called in by Gauteng Premier David Makhura.

"The audit report was shared with the CEO and management of Tembisa Hospital for the entity to act on it… the facility has since put in place a mitigation plan," the department said in a statement on Wednesday.

Bloom said it was astonishing that hospital staff behind the dodgy procurement binge had not been held to account.

He said:

I am astounded… there was no further investigation as requested by Babita Deokaran. A forensic audit is only being done now after a News24 investigation unearthed fishy companies, gross overcharging, and purchases of luxury armchairs and skinny jeans.

"If it wasn't for diligent journalists, the CFO Lerato Madyo and hospital CEO Ashley Mthunzi would not have been suspended. There should surely have been a rigorous follow-up after this random audit was done at the very time that Babita was murdered. This smacks of a cover-up at the highest levels," he added.

Bloom, who has peppered Mokgethi with questions since the scandal broke, called for her to be axed.

"The health MEC is politically accountable and should be fired immediately. Her own role in this matter should also be investigated by the Special Investigating Unit," he said.


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