Gauteng MEC of finance Barbara Creecy testifies at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings. Picture: Brenda Masilela/ANA

Johannesburg - Gauteng Finance MEC Barbara Creecy on Tuesday dismissed claims that the department of health was under financial pressure and had to cut costs which has led to the ill advised transfer of hundreds of psychiatric patients and the closure of Life Esidimeni. 

As many as 144 patients died after the transfer and 59 others are still missing.

"Treasury has never demanded that any department should cut costs service," Creecy said. Her remarks were followed by claps of approval from the family members in attendance. 

Creecy made her remarks during her testimony at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings chaired by retired deputy chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who had added her as a witness to establish the facts around claims the botched transfers were necessitated by financial constraints. 

Last week former health MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, insisted that the department ended its contract with Life Esidimeni because of financial constraints. 

Mahlangu said that removing of the patients from Esidimeni was aimed at cutting costs from R320 per patient per day as opposed to the NGOs, where she claimed the department would only spend R112.

Although Creecy said there were no orders to cut costs, she however revealed that the Gauteng health department was in debt and was not paying service providers on time hence it was put under administration by Treasury. 

The department, which was in debt of about R1.4 billion before 2014, owes huge amounts to several hospitals. 

Creecy said when Nomvula Mokonyane was premier she placed the Gauteng health department under administration. Mokonyane is now Minister of Water and Sanitation.

"The first thing that was wrong at central hospitals, management didn't know what their budgets were and to spend within those budgets. Equipment would be bought with money that was not there ... nobody checked the products that were being bought before they were ordered and delivered,"  said Creecy. 

She said while provincial treasury was administering the health department, problems were fixed without cutting costs or services. 

"It was a management problem, not a financial one,"  she explained. 

Moseneke asked Creecy if the notion of cost cutting on core services was foreign to her, to which she replied: " Yes, the pressure to cut costs was not on core services".

The hearing continues. 

African News Agency/ANA