Health Department defends spending R83m a year on Cuban medics

File picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

File picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 21, 2021


The Department of Health has defended the R83 million a year spent on the Cuban medical brigades that have been in the country since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

In a written response to parliamentary questions, acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said the 119-strong medical brigade has specialised expertise that was limited in the country.

DA MPs asked various ministers whether their departments had concluded any work exchange and or employment agreements with Cuba from 2010-11 to date.

They requested details on the work that each of the Cuban nationals performed and the total cost of employment, among other things.

Kubayi-Ngubane said the department signed a government-to-government agreement that included work exchange and/or employment agreements with Cuba.

She said the group of Cuban medical doctors was recruited to strengthen the health service in rural and under-served areas, from 2001 to 2019.

“The group currently consists of 106 medical professional who are still performing medical duties in the country under the agreement.”

Kubayi-Ngubane said a team of 119 Cuban medical experts and health professionals with experience in planning, execution and management of the public health response have been contracted from May 2021 to April 2022 with R83 030 688 in remuneration costs.

Last year, Minister Zweli Mkhize, who responded to parliamentary questions, said up to R2.4 million was the estimated salary costs for 187 Cuban health professionals and medical experts for the 2020 and 2021 calendar years.

Kubayi-Ngubane said the medical brigade performed specialised expertise services as epidemiologists, bio-statisticians, public health specialists, family physicians and health-care technology engineers, and they each had more than 10 years’ experience.

“The above-mentioned skills sets are available in South Africa. However, these are limited in number and not equitably distributed across the country.

“The scale of the Covid-19 pandemic required a greater demand of such skills to be deployed across all nine provinces and in some strategic entities of the national Department of Health, including the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and South African Health Products Regulatory Authority,” she said.

Several ministers indicated their departments have not concluded agreements with Cuba.

These include Police Minister Bheki Cele, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula.

Others are Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Small Business Development Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, Trade and Industry Minister Ibrahim Patel and Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and People with Disabilities Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said: “Despite having a bilateral agreement with the Republic of Cuba, the department has had no plans to employ Cuban nationals and, as such, has not taken any steps to ensure that any specific skill set was not available among South African citizens.”

Mboweni, on the other hand, highlighted that the National Treasury was an equal opportunity employer and followed all prescripts in terms of employment in the public service.

“The department does not hold any formal position in regards to work exchange and or employment agreements with any entity of the Republic of Cuba,” he said.

Mbalula said his department had no intention to enter into an agreement with the Cuban government for skills acquisition during the medium-term expenditure framework period.

“There are no skills sets identified by the Department of Transport that can be sourced from the Republic of Cuba which are not available in South Africa, hence there were no steps taken in this regard.”

Mthethwa said his department co-operated with Cuba, the same as any other country within the remit of its signed cultural agreement. The agreement did not call for the hiring of Cubans in South Africa.

“Although exchange of skills may be included in the agreement, however, this is not employment and no salaries are paid,” he said.

Lamola said the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development was negotiating extradition and mutual legal assistance agreements with Cuba.

“These agreements have not yet entered into force and are not linked to any work-exchange programme and or employment between the two countries.

“The position is that the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development does not currently have any plans to conclude a work exchange programme and or employment with any entity of the Republic of Cuba,” he said.

Political Bureau

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