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HEALTH Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has asked the Mpumalanga health department to explain how a multi-million-rand contract to circumcise hundreds of thousands of boys and men in the province was awarded without going to tender.
Last week The Sunday Independent reported that civil society organisation Corruption Watch was probing the irregular year-long contract to perform 260 000 circumcisions – at a cost of R700 each – which was awarded to Mkhago Health Care Services earlier this year. If all 260 000 circumcisions are performed, the contract will be worth R182 million.
Corruption Watch is also investigating why the contract was given to Mkhago owner, Dr Ebby Bongani Mkhabela, a doctor linked to a an allegedly botched circumcision on a four-year old Mpumalanga boy five years ago which is the subject of a R10m legal suit in the Pretoria High Court, in which both the national and provincial health departments are cited. In an annexure to court papers, Mkhabela is referred to on a hospital form as the surgeon for the 15-minute procedure on the four-year-old in 2008.
Motsoaledi told The Sunday Independent that the matter had been raised via the South African National Aids Council. He said he was still awaiting an explanation from the MEC and, “should the matter require further investigation, we will forward it to the necessary investigation agencies”. He said.
Mpumalanga health department spokesman Ronnie Masilela said he was not aware of any communication between the national and provincial departments regarding the contract.
He was confident that there was nothing untoward about the contract because, as a matter of principle, the department abided by the public finance management act and Treasury regulations in awarding contracts.
While the department was aware of the case of a alleged botched circumcision in the Pretoria High Court which had links to Dr Mkhabela, his experience and qualifications as the head of Right to Care in the province, convinced the department that he could be given the contract. Three weeks ago the department issued a statement saying Mkhago Services had been performing circumcisions along with five NGOs, including Right to Care.
Mkhabela was Right to Care’s Mpumalanga co-ordinator from 2008 until July this year, when the organisation discovered his contract with the department.
Medical male circumcision was one of Mkhabela’s responsibilities as the NGO’s provincial co-ordinator. The doctor apparently resigned after being confronted about his government contract.
Right to Care would not comment on the matter.
Ebby Mkhabela did not respond to calls and SMSes. But Mkhago’s spokesman Edwin Mkhabela said that when Mkhago had presented its business plan to the department, Ebby Mkhabela had been on the verge of resigning from Right to Care. He said he was not aware the minister was asking questions about the contract but he was not shocked or surprised.
He said Right to Care was upset about Mkhabela’s resignation.
He said one of theNGO’s employees had resigned after Mkhabela and came to work with Mkhago.
According to the source, there is no evidence that Mkhabela was claiming for circumcisions from the department which Right to Care had performed.
The Sunday Independent understands that the department had asked the organisation to provide it with a circumcision strategy but that Mkhabela had never given the organisation’s strategy and instead had presented it under his company’s name. Mkhabela disputed this.
Another concern, said the source, was that Mkhabela was not a qualified trainer. The Centre for HIV and Aids Prevention Studies is the only national trainer on medical male circumcisions.
Chief executive officer Dr Dino Rech said it had not done any training with staff from Mkhago.
Mkhabela, however, said that the employees were all trained before being employed by Mkhago. Mkhabela disputed that Right to Care doctors were working for Mkhago even before Mkhago got the contract.
Corruption Watch was also probing a potential conflict of interest in relation to Mkhabela’s wife, Ramatsemela Mumsy Mkhabela, who was a Mkhago director until December. She joined the health department as a medical manager at Themba Hospital in Mbombela (Nelspruit) four months before the contract was awarded.
Mumsy Mkhabela did not respond to media queries on the allegations.