A hazmat team searches for illegally dumped chemicals. FILE PICTURE: WILLEM LAW

Durban - The official appointed to deal with the control of hazardous substances in KwaZulu-Natal is not a qualified health practitioner, according to the SA Institute of Environmental Health.

This association of environmental health practitioners has also confirmed that SM Jikijela, deputy manager: hazardous substances control, at the provincial Health Department, is not registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), as required by law.

Zephania Mfeka, the institute’s treasurer, said he had been seeking remedial action from the KZN Health Department since May 27, but to no avail.

He noted also that Jikijela had recently been made acting director of environmental health.

The Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) said the department had an obligation to explain Jikijela’s appointment.

“That division in that department concerns the entire public. Controlling of hazardous substances and chemicals is of public concern because if the wrong hands handle the facility, people’s lives will be endangered,” said PSAM spokesman, Ndodana Nleya.

The department has 21 cases where the qualifications of senior managers remain unverified.

In a recent written response to questions from the DA, the department said that of the 81 senior management employee qualifications, 60 had been verified, according to the DA’s Imraan Keeka.

Provincial Health Department head, Dr Sifiso Mtshali, said Jikijela had in the past two weeks vacated the acting director’s position.

Priscilla Sekhonyana, HPCSA’s communications manager, said she needed an ID number or HPCSA registration number to be able to tell if a practitioner was registered.

Mfeka said he discovered Jikijela was not registered when he was tasked with creating a database of environmental health practitioners in the province.

Arrogant

“For some reason this one person became arrogant and I ended up not making an entry of his name, surname, designation and employment place,” Mfeka said.

After investigations, he discovered that Jikijela was employed by the provincial Health Department. On further enquiry, he discovered that he was not a qualified environmental health practitioner.

Mfeka said the department had made no attempt to give him answers on the appointment.

He said Jikijela, as deputy manager: hazardous substances control, was on level 12 of the salary scale, which meant an annual salary of about R690 000. He had been in the post since 2007.

“We reported the matter to the department in June. To compound the problem, the department allowed the official to continue in its employ.

“Further to this, the department has just sent Jikijela on a two-day interprovincial environmental health meeting to Pretoria to represent the KZN environmental health profession,” he said.

Mfeka said the Health Professions Act prescribed that if a person was practising as an environmental health practitioner then the person must be a qualified environmental health practitioner and registered with the HPCSA.

“He is not registered with the HPCSA and is therefore practising illegally and in contravention of the Health Professions Act. Apparently he has some qualification in biochemistry, which has nothing to do with the environmental health profession.”

Jikijela was contacted for comment, but said he needed the questions in writing so he could consider the matter and discuss with the department whether he could respond. When contacted again to arrange for the questions to be sent, he said he would rather have the department deal with the matter.

In an e-mail exchange between Mfeka and Bongani Shezi, a manager at the Health Department, Shezi responded: “… unfortunately all the panel members who recommended the employment of Mr Jikijela have left the service of the department. As per our response on the 22nd (of July) we highlighted that we have to establish why the panel recommended the employment of Mr Jikijela… after looking at all the documentation from the recruitment process, we have come to a conclusion that in this case, the panel should not have shortlisted Mr Jikijela as the registration he provided was not from a professional body.”

When contacted last week, Shezi declined to comment, referring the Daily News to department spokesman, Sam Mkhwanazi, who said: “This is an internal and confidential matter between employer and employee. As such, the department cannot divulge the details thereof to a third party.”

Mfeka said the institute contributed to the development of the scope of practice of environmental health, signed into legislation by the Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi in 2010.

“This legislation prohibits non-environmental health professionals from practising in the field of environmental health.

“The biggest risk of employing unqualified persons is that the person is running the hazardous substance control unit and he is not competent.

“He lacks competency in waste disposal. In the event of a chemical disaster, what will he do, because he is not trained in environmental health? We are hitting a brick wall and the only explanation for the department’s arrogance could be that this is one of those cadre deployment cases,” he said.

Daily News