'Corruption is order of the day here' - sources speak on suspension of 26 senior North West health officials

Sharon Seretlo, Gallo Images

  • Sources in the North West Department of Health have raised concern over the suspension of senior health officials, saying "they want to push [people] out and put their own people in".
  • The sources told News24 that some appointment processes, especially in healthcare facilities, have involved nepotism, with unions in control of the situation. 
  • They added that the situation had been made worse under the current administration, appointed by the health department, with the process shrouded in politics. 

Sources in the North West Department of Health have alleged foul play in the suspension of senior officials from the department, saying they suspect some were suspended for nefarious reasons.

According to the department, 26 officials - including a hospital chief executive, chief financial officers and senior managers - have been suspended.

Speaking to News24, the sources – who wished to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation and persecution – said some officials did not know why they had been suspended and had not seen any progress in their cases. Some have been sitting at home for more than a year.

READ | Four North West health professionals die in the space of a week

Dodgy appointments

One source said it was shocking that high-ranking officials – like CEOs, CFOs directors and managers – had been suspended "for matters that can easily be resolved instead of them being suspended", and that they were not given an opportunity to provide a response to the matters which sparked their sudden suspensions.

"Most are aware that [some in the department] want to push [people] out and put their own people in – people that can carry their own mandate," the source said.

The source alleged that appointment processes within the department had been fraudulent for this reason, with employees appointing family and friends in high-ranking positions.

Managers in the department and officials with links to unions had conspired to have family and friends appointed, the source alleged, adding that this matter had previously been reported by aggrieved employees.

"If you don't know them, you will not be appointed. The corruption of appointments is the order of the day here."

"In the North West Department of Health, employees are in trouble,” the source said, adding that employee complaints were not being listened to.

The official alleged that unions had significant influence, at the expense of poor patients. 

"What is happening is that the unions are running some health care facilities at the expense of poor patients who do not have medical aids, but rely on public sector," the source said.

"Employees of the North West Department of Health are living in fear. They can’t voice dissatisfaction… it is painful. They are persecuted day in and day out," they added.

Administration

The department has been under administration for over two years, however, the source explained that the situation was worse than it was before and that morale was very low.

"There must be a fine line between the administration and politics… politics have really come into play, and they are calling the shots as far as I can tell," they said.

"Administrators must be given space to function and provide quality patient care."

Suspensions

Speaking to News24, another source, who also wished to remain anonymous, explained that some officials had been sitting at home for more than a year, even though many of the issues could be sorted out internally.

The source said measures should be put into place to prevent this from happening, as disciplinary hearings are slow.

The source also raised concerns over the current administration in the department.

"They need to know how to manage it because the way it has been managed [in the department] they appoint people who don't even know what they are doing; it's trial and error."

The source added that, while they appointed officials who did not have the necessary qualifications or experience, those who were qualified and experienced were ignored because of favouritism. 

"I think the main problem is when the administrator is part of politics of the province, then it becomes a problem," the source said.

"Covid-19 has made matters worse and affected services badly, especially for availability of medications. Prof [Ebrahim] Variava was right," the source said.

News24 previously reported on the brief suspension of Variava last month, which was lifted following outcry from the medical community.

At the time, the department said "serious allegations" had been leveled against Variava and an investigation into him commenced.

They said the suspension was to ensure the integrity of the investigation.

Precautionary suspensions

According to provincial health department spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane, it was guided by certain principles before placing an official on precautionary suspension.

This includes:

  • Rreasonable suspicion that the employee has committed serious misconduct;
  • The risk that the presence of the employee could jeopardise investigations into alleged misconduct or endanger the safety of people or property;
  • Where there exists likelihood that the employee will interfere in the investigation by tampering with evidence or influencing witnesses;
  • The likelihood that the employee could retaliate against someone who laid a complaint;
  • And if there is any chance the employee could commit further misconduct if they are not suspended.

Lekgethwane said the cases of the 26 suspended officials were at different stages, with some about to be finalised, but none concluded yet.

READ | Covid-19: North West records 266 new cases in 24 hours, bringing the total to 17 60

Regarding allegations of questionable appointments, Lekgethwane said this could only be proved or disproved through disciplinary processes and investigations.

"The department cannot comment on speculations made by outside observers.

"If anyone has evidence suggesting these officials are suspended on the basis of nepotism and suspected corruption, then they should approach law enforcement agencies," Lekgethwane said.

"The department is directed by Public Services Regulations in all appointments. The department would like to see evidence of alleged corruption in appointments so that we can respond on the basis of evidence," he said.

Lekgethwane said all suspended officials had been made aware of the reasons behind their suspensions.

He said the administration in the province "is directed by an approved intervention plan. Achievement of the targets of the intervention plan is on track".

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