SMOKE AND MIRRORS
Corruption stalls repair of Gauteng’s fire-damaged Charlotte Maxeke hospital
At great cost to life and health, the failure to reopen the Charlotte Maxeke hospital is the latest sad chapter and lesson in what happens when prima facie evidence of corruption is ignored by the Gauteng government and premier and when dishonest officials are allowed to continue their work in proximity of multibillion-rand contacts.
It is now 10 months since the fire at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH) on 16 April 2021 — and 30% of the 1,088-bed hospital is still closed. Casualty is closed; the specialist psychiatric ward is closed; the cardiothoracic ICU is closed; there is no parking for doctors, nurses or patients and normal teaching of University of the Witwatersrand medical students is being severely affected.
The oncology clinic is open, but the Cancer Alliance says it has 2,000 people on its waiting list.
According to some, the fire damage and its after-effects are causing permanent harm and avoidable death on a scale akin to the Life Esidimeni disaster, among cancer patients alone.
In addition, the other tertiary hospitals that have had to pick up the slack, without being given additional budgets, are groaning under the burden.
At Helen Joseph Hospital (HJH) it is reported by doctors there that: “Since CMJAH’s closure, the number of people sleeping overnight at HJH’s emergency department (casualty) has increased by over 500%. Average waiting time used to be a few hours before getting a bed. Now it’s more than a day. Outside a Covid wave, psych patients (since CMJAH’s psych ward is closed) and trauma patients (since CMJAH’s emergency department is closed) are the bulk.”
At great cost to life and health, the failure to reopen CMJAH is the latest sad chapter and lesson in what happens when prima facie evidence of corruption is ignored by the Gauteng government and premier and when dishonest officials are allowed to continue their work in proximity of multibillion-rand contacts.
We are talking here particularly about the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development (GDID), which has featured prominently in past investigations by Maverick Citizen into suspicious ICU field hospital contracts and unnecessary “fogging” (see here, here, here, here, here). We have also received confidential reports of intimidation and a possible criminal syndicate operating within the upper echelons of the GDID.
Smoke and mirrors
The continued delays contradict assurances given by the GDID’s MEC, Tasneem Motara, in an interview with Radio 702’s John Perlman on 25 June 2021 (listen to it here), that expedited procedures were being followed to appoint contractors. Motara was at pains to talk about the efforts that were being made to acquire special fire doors (see more on that below), but was unable to answer Perlman’s question about a completion date.
Now we know why.
This week, GDID’s head of Supply Chain Management and acting CFO, Trevor Tabane, was put on precautionary suspension following findings against him set out by the Special Investigating Unit in its final report to the president. So too were several other senior officials in GDID and GDOH whose names we have not yet established.
But much of the damage has been done and, we suspect, Premier David Makhura knows it. In fact, although Makhura’s spokesperson, Vuyo Magha, has ignored our questions all week, Makhura is due to give a press media update on the hospital this morning.
Maverick Citizen can exclusively reveal that on 9 February, Makhura issued a proclamation under the Public Service Act transferring with immediate effect: “the functions entrusted by section 13(1)(d)(iv), (v) and (vi) read with the definitions of ‘accounting officer’ and ‘custodian’ in section 1 of the Government Immovable Asset Act, 2007 (Act 19 of 2007), in so far as those relate to Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital… from the Department of Infrastructure Development to the Department of Health”.
The proclamation explains that this transfer “is exclusive and limited to remedial work to be carried out expeditiously and within reasonable timelines and cost under the authority of the MEC for Health…”
Questions sent to the Gauteng Department of Health on Monday about the causes for the delay in reopening the hospital and the reasons for the proclamation were referred to Makhura’s office, but went unanswered.
However, Maverick Citizen has begun to piece together what seem likely to be some of the reasons behind the decision. In response to our questions, Bongiwe Gambu, the spokesperson for the GDID, provided answers that, while containing valuable information, also raise more questions. Her answers reveal that so far:
- Repairs carried out by the GDID appear to have been confined to the oncology unit and were all complete by July 2021;
- The repairs to the oncology unit came to more than R9-million;
- But, in addition, two other contracts for fire prevention and “propping of the fire-damaged area” have been costed at over R128-million; and
- For reasons not explained, these two contracts, with the Mmakgoge Group (for R111-million) and SKS Business Solutions (for R17.5-million) are currently undergoing termination, even though the latter’s work is said to have been completed. We do not know whether the two companies have already been paid, because Gambu says GDID is no longer answering questions now that the hospital has been transferred from their responsibility.
Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) searches on the two companies revealed that:
- The Mmakgoge Group has one director, Kgomotso Prudence Motuku. The company’s previous directors appear to be her parents. It is registered for “industrial cleaning, purification services, mechanical maintenance, distribution and projects” and has been threatened with deregistration several times for non-compliance with the Companies Act. The company’s website claims it has worked on the Matimba, Duvha, Tutuka and Arnot power stations and Free State hospitals. Motuku did not respond to efforts to get comments via WhatsApp and email. The email listed on the company website did not work.
- SKS Business Solutions has as its sole director Petrus Siphiwe Zwane and has listed a business address in Florida, Gauteng. A former director is listed as Zama Zwane who has resigned. It has no obvious website that could be traced. Zwane did not respond to efforts to get comments via SMS and email.
These are the questions we sent to Motuku and Zwane:
- Have you been informed that your contract is being terminated? When was this done and what were the reasons you were given?
- How much was the tender contract worth and how much of this money has been paid to you?
- Have you completed the work? Please give detail on how much of the work is still outstanding.
- What was the work your company was contracted to do?
- Have you done business with the Gauteng DID before? Please give details.
Long way to go
Overall, the GDID’s response reveals that the process of repairing the hospital is only in the early stages. Illustrating this, in response to a question asking who the members of the Bid Adjudication Committee were, Gambu replied: “There is no estimated cost at this stage as the complete planning of the full scope of work was not completed by DID.” Gambu added: “Work has not been advertised. The work done at oncology followed the maintenance budget and process of appointing maintenance contractor from our pre-approved term contractors.”
Finally, in our quest to find out the state of repairs, Maverick Citizen has also established that last year the Solidarity Fund was also approached to fund certain repairs at CMJAH by the hospital’s CEO, Gladys Bogoshi. According to the Solidarity Fund’s Wendy Tlou, executive head of Humanitarian Support & Brand Communications, the fund has so far spent R68-million to provide “assistance with the fire compliance requirements and refurbishment of Block One of CMJAH”.
Tlou says the Solidarity Fund agreed to pay for this work “in anticipation of the fourth wave [of Covid] which was projected to coincide with the festive season.
“Block One, which contains all trauma and acute Covid-19 emergency admissions departments on Level 6, was prioritised following a recommendation by the clinical team at CMJAH and in line with CMJAH’s ambition to have this section open to relieve the pressure of Covid-19 case resurgence on surrounding hospitals.”
But even these blocks are still not open. Tlou says that “substantial work has been carried out, with two-thirds of Level 6 near completion”. However, “The reopening dates for Level 6 are awaiting City of Johannesburg (CoJ) approval. ”
In this regard, some of our sources have said that City of Johannesburg fire officials have also been obstructive, and question whether they too may have an ulterior interest in the delays. There is, for example, still no forensic report about the fire.
This is a developing story and Maverick Citizen aims to publish further reports in the coming days. DM/MC
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