Johannesburg - The lives of patients at some North West hospitals have been put at risk after boilers broke down when substandard coal from the Guptas’ Tegeta mine used to heat the vessels caused frequent corrosion.
Broken and clogged coal-fired boilers have forced some hospitals to cut down on surgery because of unsterilised equipment and instruments. Boilers are essential for hospitals. Their steam is used to sterilise theatre equipment, cooking utensils, and linen, as well as for water heating and the general heating of hospital buildings.
The Star is aware of at least four hospitals that have been affected: Job Shimankana Tabane Hospital in Rustenburg, Potchefstroom Hospital, Klerksdorp Hospital and Taung Hospital. It is understood that the problem has also spread to other facilities in the province.
This is the latest allegation against a Gupta-linked company, following recent claims that another Gupta firm, Mediosa, had captured the province’s Health Department by getting pre-payments for work not done.
North West Health Department’s contract with Moepathutshe GRP, which it hired in 2016 to procure goods and services on its behalf, is being investigated by the Hawks. This was confirmed by spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane.
But the company’s chief executive, Lesiba Ramashala, rejected the claims, saying the company was merely contracted to request proposals, evaluation, and implementation of the management system of non-pharmaceutical goods and services.
“We do not supply coal and have no relationship with any coal mine,” said Ramashala.
But two senior managers at the department’s head offices in Mahikeng said the department had been quiet about its dealings with Moepathutshe and that the recently suspended head of the department, Thabo Lekalakala, was also benefiting from the deal.
“Moepathutshe is being charged more than R500 million by Tegeta. The department never put out a tender for that service. On three occasions we were in meetings with Eskom trying to get them to buy coal for us, but that fell through and someone got Moepathutshe to buy coal from Tegeta,” the source said.
“It’s Lekalakala’s trucks that are transporting this coal from the Gupta mines to the various hospitals. And machines are breaking down because of the poor quality of the coal. The company is procuring everything and you’d find that people working in the supply-chain offices of the department no longer have work to do,” he said.
Lekalakala did not want to respond to the allegations involving him.
“No comment. These are best dealt with by the forensic audits that are currently under way. I’m on leave until the investigations are completed,” he said.
George van der Merwe, the chief operating officer of the Guptas’ Optimum Mine, did not reply to enquiries at his office.
A senior manager at Job Shimankana Tabane Hospital said they never had a coal problem until late last year when Moepathutshe came into the picture.
“We normally used grade A coal, which is what our boilers are designed for. But we started getting suspicious after we noticed that the coal was burning much quicker and was not giving us the optimum heat we were used to.
“An ash would form in the boilers’ tubes, causing the entire structure to collapse,” said the manager.
On top of cutting down on the number of operations because of dirty equipment, the 437-bed hospital also had to pay R200 000 to have its boilers repaired. The facility was reduced from using seven theatres to two for a few days.
“We normally procured coal ourselves until last year, when another company was contracted to do that for us. We have informed the department of our challenges, and they have taken the coal for testing.
“One of our concerns is that we paid the same amount of money for the two grades of coal that we received,” the manager added.
A manager at Taung Hospital said they noticed the decline in the quality of the coal because the tubes inside their boilers were dirtier than before. They complained to the department three weeks ago.
“As a result, we are servicing the machines a lot more now than we used to, which is costly. We have been fortunate that we have not faced dire challenges like other hospitals,” said the manager.
Lekgethwane said they became aware of the allegations against Moepathutshe last month. “The department is looking for an accredited agency to test the coal,” he added.
Although Lekgethwane could not confirm how much they had paid the company to date, The Star has seen six invoices dating from September 2017 to last month, totalling more than R86m.
Hawks spokesperson Tlangelani Rikhotso confirmed that they were investigating several cases of fraud and corruption within the department. He would not confirm whether the Moepathutshe contract was among them.