Babita Deokaran scandal: DA cries cover-up as health dept leadership stands silent

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Demonstrators in support of Babita Deokaran outside the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, where six alleged hitmen appeared.
Demonstrators in support of Babita Deokaran outside the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, where six alleged hitmen appeared.
Alfonso Nqunjana, News24
  • The Democratic Alliance in Gauteng has reiterated a call for provincial health CFO Lerato Madyo to be suspended.
  • A News24 investigation titled Silenced revealed that Madyo lied to Babita Deokaran just days before she was murdered, insisting that a report she compiled and fears over her safety were bumped up the chain of command.
  • The DA's Jack Bloom said the silence from the health department was deafening.

The DA in Gauteng has raised the spectre of a cover-up after News24 revealed that provincial health boss Lerato Madyo never acted on a plea - issued by Babita Deokaran three weeks before she was murdered - that R850 million in dubious payments out of the Tembisa Hospital be investigated.

"It looks like Madyo had a central role in the cover-up of a massive scandal that may be linked to Deokaran’s murder," DA health spokesperson Jack Bloom said in a statement.

"You would have thought that after Deokaran’s death, the CFO and the department would pay attention to what she had warned about, but it appears not. And now we have a deafening silence from the department to the disclosures about the dubious Tembisa Hospital payments that total R850 million," he added. 

On Monday, News24 reported that Madyo had lied when she told Deokaran that her discovery of a surge in payments from the hospital had been bumped up the chain of command. 

READ | Babita Deokaran was 'failed' by those in power - family

It was only on the day of Deokaran's assassination that Madyo mentioned to her superiors, in passing, that the whistleblower was worried her life was in danger after moving to halt payments to a politically connected businessman and hundreds of other companies. 

Then acting Gauteng Health HOD Sibongile Zungu said this week:

There was never a report and request for an investigation…Ms Madyo did not communicate any request for an investigation prior to Ms Deokaran's passing.

Madyo, as chief financial officer, is a central figure in Deokaran's final graft probe and was among the first to be notified that expenditure out of Tembisa Hospital was alarmingly high. 

"Surely the CFO should be immediately suspended, and a forensic probe done urgently," Bloom said. 

"Babita Deokaran died because she was trying to fix the department. We owe it to her memory to speedily investigate and hold accountable those who shamelessly steal money that is needed for a decent health service in this province," he added. 

Madyo has since gone to ground, refusing to answer questions on what she did, or what she failed to do. 

'Our lives could be in danger'

In a formal report, Deokaran identified R344 million bound for the hospital's suppliers - exactly a quarter of the provincial department's R1.4-billion spend – from a single payment proposal. She also provided a list of more than 217 companies she felt needed closer scrutiny. Madyo received this report three weeks before Deokaran was murdered.  

A trove of more than 60 000 emails and the contents of Deokaran's cellphone reveal how she had confided in Madyo that her Tembisa Hospital investigation and the stopping of payments could place her life in jeopardy.

On 11 August, 12 days before the murder, Deokaran sent Madyo a WhatsApp message. 

"Morning CFO, I am just worried that the guys in Tembisa are going to realise we are not releasing their payments and know that we on to something. Our lives could be in danger."

READ | SILENCED: No investigation, no protection: Inside department head's big lie to Babita Deokaran

Madyo responded: "Morning Babita. I've requested HOD to grant approval for investigation," to which Deokaran replies: "Thank you. I am praying she grants approval soon so that work can start. Thank you for the support."

Zungu, responding to questions, said the first time she was made aware of Deokaran's call for an investigation into Tembisa Hospital was on the day of her murder. 

"She [Madyo] was responding to my question on how she was feeling. She indicated that she was still hurting and going through their text conversations," she said. 

"Madyo did not communicate any request for an investigation… she did however share a screenshot of their WhatsApp conversation. [This was] not necessarily reporting or requesting an investigation but rather highlighting that it seemed like Babita had a premonition about the activities at Tembisa Hospital," Zungu added. 

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