Johannesburg - Gauteng MEC of Finance Barbara Creecy gave evidence at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings on Tuesday that over R47 million was paid to NGOs to take care of mentally ill patients.
Some of the NGOs at the centre of the scandal which saw patients moved from Life Esidimeni to NGOs, have however claimed that they were never paid.
But according to Creecy, over R47 million was transferred to NGOs. Precious Angels NGO received over R1 million, Takalani received R88 000, Mosego received over R13 million and Sharma House was given over R2 million. Creecy said only three NGOs did not receive money.
At least 144 people died after they were transferred to the NGO's, some of whom were unregistered and ill-equipped to care for the patients, with many patients reportedly dying from neglect and starvation. At least 62 patients are thought to still be unaccounted for.
Precious Angels had one of the highest death counts. The owner of the NGO, Ethel Ncube testified that she was not paid for three months by the department of health in order to take care of patients.
Although Mosego NGO receive R13 million, families testified that the NGO was not in a proper condition to take care of patients.
Creecy’s testimony comes after former MEC of Health Qedani Mahlangu insisted that the department ended its Life Esidimeni contract because of financial constraints.
Creecy said that in November 2014 the health department indicated to them that they wanted to move patients. She said the budget council was not opposed to the move but said it was explained to the department that they could go ahead but they should not compromise the wellbeing of patients.
"If you want to transfer patients from Life Esidimeni to state institutions you can do that, but you cannot diminish the quality service. If you think you can do this more cost effectively in-house, that's fine. But the department should ensure that the re-prioritisation of funds doesn't affect the quality of services."
Creecy further explained that after the budget meeting with the provincial premier and other MECs, the department of health was asked to return to the meeting and say whether they needed additional funding and state what the funding would be used for.
She said when the department returned, they were given additional money. They never mentioned a need to cut costs in mental health institutions.
Creecy explained that the emphasis to the department during the engagement in the premier's budget meeting was on quality of services, not on cost savings.
"Even in tough financial times, we always maintain spending on social services because we understand how many people in our province depend on it," Creecy said.
She said the Gauteng health department had a lack of financial control and mismanagement of funds.
Earlier, she revealed that the department was in debt of about R1.4 billion before 2014 and that it was not paying for services, hence treasury had put the department under administration.
The department owed several hospitals. Creecy said Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane placed the health department under administration when she was still provincial premier.
"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. She says nobody checked the products that were being bought before they were ordered and delivered," she added.
Current Gauteng Premier David Makhura is expected to take the stand after Creecy is done with her testimony.
The Premier’s office has admitted that it knew about the termination of the contract with Life Esidimeni, but it did not know that patients were moved to NGOs, and that the decision was not made in consultation with the Provincial Executive Council.
African News Agency/ANA