Durban - A probe into the procurement of multimillion-rand radiotherapy machines, now in disuse at Addington Hospital, has extended to the US as the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department believes it might have been sold old equipment as new.
The Daily News has learnt that the investigating team has visited the manufacturing plant of Varian Linear Accelerators, headquartered in Palo Alto, California.
The investigation is being spearheaded by the national Health Department in conjunction with the Treasury.
Two machines installed at Durban’s Addington Hospital have repeatedly broken down as they were not serviced following an impasse between the supplier, Tecmed Africa, and the department.
But Tecmed’s chief executive, Werner Bergere, burst out laughing when the allegations were put to him on Wednesday: “I have heard that story before. The Department of Health always comes up with stories whenever they are under pressure for not paying us. They don’t know what they are talking about; clearly they don’t know reality.”
Bergere described the machines as the most modern and efficient, saying proof could be obtained from the manufacturer that they were new.
The department has not paid Tecmed the R430 000 monthly maintenance fee for the cancer machines, claiming there were irregularities in the procurement of the machines, which cost the state R120 million.
This follows a stand-off last year between the department and Tecmed over the same machines.
An official close to the present investigation confirmed one of the things investigators were probing was whether the machines were new when they were sold to the department.
“We believe that the only thing new there were the shells. These two machines at Addington have continuously broken down while the other machines in other sites are functioning well,” said the source.
“Now, if you were to buy a car having been told that it’s new and you later discover that it is in fact old, would you continue paying?
“This is the predicament that the government is faced with. We think we were taken for a ride.”
Treasury spokeswoman, Phumza Macanda, refused to comment on the investigation, simply saying: “We don’t comment on investigations.”
KZN health boss, Dr Sibongile Zungu, said the investigation was being handled by Treasury and the national Department of Health.
Bergere confirmed his company had ceased all maintenance work because the department had not paid the service fees for the past 11 months.
Before undertaking any maintenance work, he said, Tecmed was now seeking assurance that it would be paid for any future work.
“We now have asked them to give us official order numbers before we can do any work. They have not given us any order numbers and the machines are not working,” he said.
National Health Department spokesman, Joe Maila, could not comment immediately, saying he needed more time to obtain details.
Tecmed denies that there were procurement irregularities, but the machines were bought for R120m even though there was a competitor whose tender bid was less than half the price, an official said.
IFP MPL Ncamisile Nkwanyana called on the Health Department to speed up its investigation, saying “the lives of people are being adversely affected due to mismanagement and sheer incompetence”.
Zungu said patients who received radiotherapy at Addington were now referred to other hospitals.
“We have to know what cancer patients (we are) talking about because not all cancer patients require radiotherapy,” she said, adding facilities including Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital and Grey’s Hospital offered radiotherapy.
Zungu said the department was developing a cancer register to better understand the cancer treatment caseload in the province to help in developing proper interventions.
Bergere also dismissed claims that Tecmed had inflated prices.
“I am now going to be writing to the premier (Senzo Mchunu) so that the matter could get the necessary attention,” he said.