JOHANNESBURG – The disciplinary cases of two senior Gauteng Health Department officials have been put on hold pending the finalisation of their appeal against the health ombudman's findings about the deaths of patients transferred from Life Esidimeni to unsuitable NGOs, the Democratic Alliance said on Sunday.
Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa had disclosed this information in a written reply to a question in the Gauteng legislature, DA MPL Jack Bloom said.
“Ramokgopa says that Dr Barney Selebano (head of department) and Dr Makgabo Manamela (director: mental health) have been charged with seven and eight charges respectively, including fraud, misleading the provincial legislature and the public, gross negligence, gross dereliction of duties, breaches of laws, and bringing the department into disrepute,” he said.
However, “the Pretoria High Court has ordered that the disciplinary hearing should be put on hold pending the finalisation of the appeal process at national level against the health ombud’s recommendations”.
Bloom said he was dismayed by the delay in the appeal process and the disciplinary cases.
Costs were mounting as the two officials were being paid while on suspension – Selebano had been paid R821,078 and Manamela had received R491,965 from 1 February to 30 September.
Furthermore, R1.145-million had so far been spent on consultants and legal costs in the matter.
“I am also concerned that the police investigation is so slow and that 21 post-mortem reports have not been completed as disclosed in the current Esidimeni arbitration hearings,” he said.
The intended result of these hearings was redress and compensation to the relatives of the deceased patients, but real justice would be achieved only when the perpetrators were charged and convicted in court. This should include former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, "the prime person to blame for the whole tragedy”, Bloom said.
“I question the competence of the investigators who have been so slow in this matter. How can it be that there are still seven unidentified bodies lying in a mortuary and 59 untraced patients, and we still do not know exactly how many died? Every effort should be made to complete all aspects of the investigation and disciplinary process,” Bloom said.
On Friday, it emerged that the number of mental patients who died after they were relocated from Life Esidimeni Healthcare had risen to 141.
Gauteng Health Department acting head Ernest Kenoshi told the arbitration hearing that 23 patients died between February and September. ”Subsequent to February, after the health ombudsman’s report was released, there were more deaths. So the number of deaths to date, adding the 118, is 141,” Kenoshi said.
In February, Gauteng Premier David Makhura suspended Selebano in the wake of recommendations by Makgoba following the death of 118 psychiatric patients at ill-equipped facilities of various NGOs. Mahlangu tendered her resignation as the saga unfolded.
At the time, Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba found that as many as 94 mentally ill patients who were transferred from Esidimeni to unlicensed care centres died of causes that included neglect and starvation.