Just over two years ago Mtshali was praised by MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo for his “sterling work” in running Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital until 2015, when he was appointed department head.
On Monday the department suspended Mtshali after the unresolved oncology crisis, which has led to the death of an undisclosed number of cancer patients around the province.
Mtshali could only confirm the suspension on Tuesday, but would not comment further as the matter was sub-judice.
A source close to the matter said the suspension revolved around the oncology crisis.
Mtshali’s suspension came as no surprise given Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s utterances at an interview with the Daily News in June after the outcry about broken oncology machines in Addington Hospital. He had said the department head, not the MEC, was to blame.
Motsoaledi blamed non-functional procurement processes and the awarding of tenders to incompetent companies in favour of local economic development as a reason for the exodus of oncologists.
“The heads of departments are responsible for the procurement. In this case, the KZN health department head messed up,” Motsoaledi said at the time.
A former official, who asked not to be named, said the department issue was complex.
“Mtshali was parachuted into that position. He had insufficient experience and it would seem that this was deliberate because he had not much say in administrative matters. How often has he responded to the media on department administrative issues? When he was elevated to that position he became like a zombie, while the MEC poked his nose into the administration of the department.”
On the oncology “mess”, the official said the department should be looking back to 2008 when the cancer machines were procured for R120 million.
This was in reference to the two machines bought for Addington Hospital, with their purchase turning into an investigation after allegations of fraud and corruption.
Politicians and doctors were implicated in the saga.
Mtshali was appointed department head in July 2015.
During his appointment, MEC Dhlomo had praised him for his sterling work in running the facility.
“He (Mtshali) brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and has led the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital with distinction. Just recently, the hospital was hailed as second only to Steve Biko Academic Hospital (in Pretoria) in the achievement of the national core standards,” Dhlomo said.
Yesterday, the department did not respond to e-mailed questions regarding the suspension.
Spokesperson Agiza Hlongwane said HODs were appointed by the premier.
The suspension came as no surprise to the DA. Party spokesperson on health Dr Imran Keeka said he understood that the suspension had been on the cards since June.
“KZN’s oncology and other health crises did not happen overnight. They also did not happen under Dr Mtshali’s watch alone. The common denominator is MEC Dhlomo. While the DA acknowledges the premier’s right to hold officials accountable, it is very clear that Dr Mtshali is the latest scapegoat to take responsibility for a political bungle,” Keeka said.
He said the premier’s “biggest folly” was not removing MEC Dhlomo who, for eight years, has done nothing to prevent the collapse of the department.
“This is the MEC who, according to Dr Mtshali’s frank admission in a recent ministerial task team report, meddled extensively and illegally in the administration of the department,” he said.
In the report, Mtshali expressed concern that the role clarification between the MEC and himself was at times not clear because the MEC wanted to manage as the HOD.
He further noted the lack of skills in the department’s management team.
Mtshali said he felt support from the management team was lacking since his appointment.
On Tuesday evening KZN Premier Willies Mchunu said he was in Cape Town.
“On our return, we will sign for his replacement. The suspension is the first stage of the disciplinary process against DrMtshali. For now, he has not been charged. We cannot comment further on the matter,” he said.