Johannesburg - Suspended Gauteng Health head of the department Tiego Selebano effectively threw his underling Dr Makgabo Manamela under the bus, saying she was the leader of the team that implemented the botched Life Esidimeni project and and also put pressure on implementers to move patients to non-governmental organisations.
Selebano was testifying on Tuesday after his urgent application to set aside a subpoena ordering him to appear before the arbitration hearing was on Monday dismissed with costs.
Selebano was suspended in the wake of recommendations by Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba following the death of 143 psychiatric patients who had been transferred from Life Esidimeni to ill equipped and at unlicneced NGO facilities.
During his testimony, Selebano said Manamela, along with her team, came up with a plan on how patients will be moved to the NGOs and his responsibility was to approve the plan.
Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke asked if the plan would have been implemented without his approval.
"It can't, but if the managers say this is the plan, it works, you are pressured as an HOD...once you have approved, you take accountability," Selabano said.
He reiterated that the decision to cancel the contract with Life Esidimeni was a collective process made by the provincial department of health. He further explained that the department was under financial constraints and they were told they had to give the same level of care to patients at lower costs.
Previously, Manamela, the suspended director of mental health services in the province, refused to take any blame over the death of patients and kept making reference that it was a "team" effort and she shouldn't be singled out.
During the project, Manamela had been in charge of issuing license to NGOs and, according to her, only one NGO was operating without a license. However, it was revealed that a number of the NGOs had been unlicensed.
Her duties had also involved her going to the facilities for inspection, but out of 27 centres, she went to only four.
Selebano said he only became aware through the media that patients were dying and was also notified when he received a call from national Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi.
"The Minister said, 'Barney you have to go and close those NGOs, we cannot afford any more deaths'."
Moseneke asked Selebano if the NGOs were assessed before being issued with licenses.
"Dr Manamela and her team were responsible for assessing NGOs and when the plan was presented to me, they said the NGOs were okay. I don't even know how to assess an NGO."
Selebano kept referring to the fact that there was "pressure" to get the project in motion.
Evidence leader Patrick Ngutshana asked Selebano where the pressure escalated from to move patients.
"It was coming from MEC Qedani Mahlangu," he replied.
Selebano conceded that the project was rushed, and that patients were sent to NGOs without them being assessed first, while facilities were not fit for purpose.
"I have to be honest, justice, at that time I didn't know, I only know now that the NGOs were not fit for purpose."
The hearing continues.