Covid-19 in the Eastern Cape: Treasury shoots down plan to build 1 000-bed field hospital

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane.
Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane.
GCIS
  • National Treasury and the Department of Human Settlements rejected a request to use money meant for housing for a 1 000-bed field hospital for Covid-19.
  • Treasury said while funding for Covid-19 is considered a priority, it should come from the provincial health department, which is struggling financially.
  • But the Eastern Cape government is looking elsewhere for funding, including the private sector for funding for the hospital.

The Eastern Cape government's plan to use some of the Buffalo City metro's R340 million housing budget to build a 1 000-bed field hospital in East London has been shot down by National Treasury.

On Friday, Treasury and the national Department of Human Settlements - the administrators of the Urban Settlements Development Grant (USDG) - confirmed the request from the city was declined.

The provincial government said it was now looking elsewhere to get the funds to build the hospital.

Premier Oscar Mabuyane's spokesperson, Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, said: "Government is working with its social partners to resource the fight against the virus. We are focusing on identifying property for the field hospitals and together with our social partners we will join hands to establish resources we require to save the lives of our people."

Treasury said it had received a request from Buffalo City to have it USDG amount of R340 million reprioritised during the 2019/20 financial year for Covid-19-related expenditure.

READ | Truck carrying Covid-19 samples hijacked in Port Elizabeth

"With regards to the utilisation of the USDG allocation on the construction of field hospitals, the request was made to the national Department of Human Settlements which administers the grant. The department, with the concurrence of National Treasury, declined the request because funding for hospitals is not the function of the City."

Treasury added it declined the proposal because Covid-19-related spending on health was funded through the provincial health department, which is currently struggling financially.

The DA has been critical of the provincial health department's ailing financial health, with much of its budget having to go to medico-liability suits.

Response

"The response was made in line with the principle of funding following function. While the decision to fund the construction of field hospitals is considered a Covid-19 expenditure priority, its funding should be considered by the provincial health department and not through the national department which funds the USDG," Treasury said.

"Funding it through USDG would be inconsistent with the purpose of the grant and would therefore mean shifting funds from priority housing and informal settlement projects for which this funding is allocated."

Buffalo City Mayor Xola Pakati said the City had not yet received the news of the rejection from Treasury or human settlements department. 

READ | Eastern Cape's Covid-19 nightmare could see 9 000 'unavoidable' deaths, say experts

Pakati told News24: "As the City, we have not yet received a response on the matter from the national Department Human Settlements or National Treasury, and thus are not aware whether the request has been declined.

"The need for a field hospital was informed by the number of infections that are experienced by the City and the fact that the current health facilities are expected to be overwhelmed towards and during the peak of the pandemic.

Escalating

"It was also informed by the escalating rate of Covid-19 infections in the high-density area of Duncan Village, where people do not have space for self-isolation.

"Due to resource constraints experienced by the provincial Department of Health, the provincial government requested the City's collaboration in the erection of the field hospital, hence a subsequent request for the use of the USDG was made by the City to the national Department of Human Settlements."

According to Times Select, the Eastern Cape's plan was to set up the hospital in an unused warehouse belonging to tech company Yekani Manufacturing, which is battling to survive a business rescue process.

Both Yekani and ELIDZ confirmed talks around the feasibility of the field hospital was already underway, Times Select reported. Mercedes-Benz South Africa had also indicated its willingness to help, according to the publication.

This would have been the third field hospital in the province after the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium isolation site and VW-sponsored 4 000-bed facility in Port Elizabeth's Korsten.

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