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SPOTLIGHT

Acting FS health head still at work despite fraud, corruption, forgery and money laundering charges

Acting FS health head still at work despite fraud, corruption, forgery and money laundering charges
Godfrey Mahlatsi, acting HOD of the Free State Health Department. (Photo by Gallo Images / City Press / Lucky Nxumalo)

It’s business as usual at the Free State Department of Health, with the acting head Godfrey Mahlatsi back at work after being released on R5,000 bail on 11 February. Mahlatsi and other officials are facing charges of fraud, corruption, forgery and money laundering. The alleged crimes cost the department R8.7-million.

The acting head of the Free State health department, Godfrey Mahlatsi, appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrates’ Court after handing himself over to police following the issuing of a warrant for his arrest in the first week of February. 

The charges relate to fraud and corruption that allegedly took place in the health department from 2011 to 2015, Hawks spokesperson in the province, Christopher Singo, told Spotlight. Mahlatsi was the department’s accounting officer from 2014 to 2018 when it was under provincial treasury administration. 

He was appointed acting HoD in May 2021 (Spotlight interviewed him at the time).

david motau free state health corruption

In the eye of the storm. Dr David Motau, former head of the Free State Department of Health, who is now suspended as registrar of the HPCSA. (Photo: Refilwe Mekoa / Spotlight)

Mahlatsi, former HoD David Motau — who has been suspended from his new position of registrar at the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) — and 10 other officials in the department are facing charges of fraud, corruption, forgery and money laundering that led to an R8.7-million loss to the department. 

HPCSA spokesperson Christopher Tsatsawane confirmed to Spotlight that Motau remained suspended.

Motau, 10 department officials, and six service providers appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrates’ court in August last year and were released on bail ranging from R2,000 to R5,000. The charges now also include Mahlatsi as he was the accounting officer in the health department during that time. 

“It is alleged that during the course of the regulatory audit in the department, the audit team from the Auditor-General requested information on certain payments made to service providers and subsequently queried the procurement processes that were followed,” said Singo. 

“As a result, an internal investigation followed where it was discovered that false and forged ‘requests for payment advices’ were submitted during the period from January 2011 to December 2015 for payments that were made to the service providers. 

“However, it is further alleged that no evidence could be found whether the actual services were rendered by the service providers or not.

“The department was prejudiced and suffered a total loss of more than R8-million, which was paid to the service providers. The matter was then reported to the police, and a case was handed over to the Hawks Serious Commercial Crime Investigation in Bloemfontein for further investigation,” said Singo.

Mahlatsi, Motau and the other accused will appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrates’ Court on 14 March. 

Business as usual, for now

When asked if Mahlatsi had been suspended, provincial health department spokesperson Mondli Mvambi said it was the prerogative of Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela to decide what happens to Mahlatsi, but at the moment he remained the head of the department. 

“You must remember that in South Africa you are innocent until proven guilty. We cannot subjugate the courts,” he said.

According to labour law specialist Jonathan Erickson of the Black Emancipation Allied Workers Union of South Africa in the Free State, such conduct generally warrants an immediate suspension, unless the employer feels the allegations are not serious. 

“In the event that serious allegations are raised against employees, whether internally or externally, an employer is obliged to investigate the allegations, and act as per their disciplinary code where applicable,” he said. 

“Even where a criminal case is pending, an employer is within their right to continue with their own internal investigation. Should an employee be found to have committed any misconduct, even on a balance of probability, the employee could be charged and may even be dismissed before the outcome of a criminal court.”

Erickson said the Labour Relations Act requires that a fair process is followed before issuing any warnings or dismissing an employee. 

“In cases of very serious misconduct, certain disciplinary codes make provisions for precautionary suspension pending investigation. Suspension is usually invoked where certain elements are present. For example, the possibility of intimidation of witnesses, tampering with evidence, the possibility of repetition of the misconduct which is theft, fraud and related misconduct,” he said. 

Spotlight understands that Health MEC Montseng Tsiu and Premier Sisi Ntombela met to discuss Mahlatsi’s fate soon after his court appearance. 

Approached for comment, the premier’s spokesperson, Sello Pietersen, told Spotlight the two officials had decided that Mahlatsi would continue with his duties. 

“The HoD has explained himself to the premier about the implications and he stated his case. Following the meeting, the premier noted that Mahlatsi’s presence does not have the potential to interfere with the quality of his work and therefore it is the view of the premier that the services of the department will also not be disturbed while Mahlatsi is still in his office.”

When asked if the norm was for Free State officials to remain in their positions after being criminally charged, Pietersen said each case was assessed on its merits.

“Based on the assessment, we then decide if it warrants suspension or not. In Mahlatsi’s case, he has not been charged by the department. This is purely a criminal case, and that is why we say we will allow for the law to take its course. 

“Until there are reasons enough to charge Mahlatsi as the department’s HoD, necessary steps will be taken, but at this point, we believe that his presence will not interfere with the quality of the department’s services,” Pietersen said.

Mahlatsi told Spotlight the problem was that “the same people I suspended will be appearing with me in court. I wish they could separate the cases. That is why I’m not suspended… because my bosses know that I am innocent.” 

SIU probe

Mahlatsi is also being investigated by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) for alleged PPE tender fraud relating to R39-million that was awarded by the provincial treasury to 32 service providers who supplied sub-standard surgical gowns to the health department. Mahlatsi was head of the Free State treasury from 2013 until his appointment as acting health head in May 2021.

According to the SIU report on Covid-related procurement irregularities, which was released on 25 January 2022, the unit received allegations on 30 September 2020, “when the Chief Director of Assets and Liability Management in the Free State Treasury brought it to the attention of the SIU. 

“The SIU has instituted civil action in the Special Tribunal to interdict the Free State Treasury and the Free State health department from making payments to 30 suppliers who provided surgical gowns to the value of R39,150,739, and to have the awarding of the contracts reviewed and set aside.” 

The case was heard in August last year and judgment has been reserved. 

Opposition parties shocked

Meanwhile, opposition parties in the province have vowed to follow the Mahlatsi case closely. 

“We will question the premier on why the acting HoD is still at work and whether the labour law regulations will be followed,” said Mandisa Makesini, member of the Free State legislature and EFF provincial chairperson.

Democratic Alliance health spokesperson Mariette Pittaway says she is shocked at the allegations against Mahlatsi. “This came as a surprise. I hope more arrests will follow,” she said. DM/MC

This article was published by Spotlight — health journalism in the public interest.

 

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

    Democratic Alliance health spokesperson Mariette Pittaway obviously has no idea who she is dealing with, otherwise she would not be ‘shocked’ by these allegations. Wake up Mariette – These are anc cadre deployees.

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