AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
North West department head charged over R470m Brits Hospital tender
In the latest corruption-related case in the province, the head of the North West health department has been granted a leave of absence after he was arrested on charges related to a R470-million tender to build a hospital. His predecessor also faces criminal charges.
Obakeng Eden Mongale, the former head of the North West public works department and current head of the province’s health department, appeared in the Mahikeng Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, 2 November, in connection with the alleged irregular awarding of a tender worth R470-million to build Brits Hospital in 2008.
Following a brief appearance, Mongale was released on R50,000 bail and ordered to surrender his passport and not to interfere with State witnesses.
He is charged with contravening the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). It is alleged that in 2008 he awarded an R470-million tender to Ilima Projects and Tsoga Developers to build Brits Hospital.
A probe by the Serious Commercial Crime Unit revealed that two companies were awarded the tender without meeting requirements.
According to North West National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Henry Mamothame, Ilima Projects was purportedly placed in provisional liquidation in 2010. As a result the contract was terminated.
He said a new company was appointed to complete the construction of the hospital. When the contract was terminated the department had spent more than R57-million.
“The new contractor had to carry out two major remedial works amounting to more than R4-million, which resulted in the extension of time and cost, which constituted wasteful expenditure,” he added.
On Monday, 6 November, North West health MEC Madoda Sambatha said Mongale has been granted a leave of absence pending the finalisation of the court case.
In November 2020, a North West health department delegation led by Sambatha, administrator Jeannette Hunter and acting deputy director-general of health Pule Monale went on a fact-finding mission to Brits Hospital following complaints.
A video showing people sleeping on the floor of the hospital’s casualty section triggered the fact-finding trip.
Sambatha indicated then that the treatment of the complainant’s mother and other people on the floor was harsh, unprofessional and lacking in empathy.
Heads of department in the dock
He replaced former health head of department Dr Andrew Lekalakala, who has been arrested himself for alleged fraud of R49-million through his company, Raliform Investment, in the construction of Moses Kotane Hospital in Rustenburg and Joe Morolong Hospital in Vryburg.
Lekalakala is facing charges of fraud, contravention of the PFMA and violating the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act in a Gupta-linked fraud case.
The charges stem from the alleged fraudulent awarding of a contract for mobile clinics in February 2017 to Mediosa, a company linked to the Gupta family. The clinics were intended to serve rural communities in North West. Lekalakala allegedly approved payments of R30-million to Mediosa before it rendered any services.
The Gupta Leaks emails show a clear relationship between the Guptas, Mediosa and its directors. The first semblance of what would become Mediosa is contained in an email from Sunil Sachdeva, sent on 9 May 2015 to Tony Gupta.
‘Yet another corruption scandal’
On Monday, 6 November, Gavin Edwards, the DA’s North West health spokesperson, welcomed the arrest of Mongale, saying the party had rejected his appointment as head of the health department in April 2021.
About the decision to place Mongale on special leave, Edwards said: “Once again, the North West department of health will be left with an acting HOD, while paying Mr Mongale’s full HOD salary during his special leave, incurring more wasteful expenditure.
“This situation could have been avoided had MEC Sambatha considered our objections in good faith when we raised them in 2021 and to rather appoint an individual that is fit-for-purpose and above reproach.”
Edwards added that the North West health department has been mired in corruption scandal after corruption scandal.
“Three years later and the North West provincial government has still not finalised the investigations into the multimillion-rand Buthelezi EMS contracts that syphoned millions away from medical services through the notorious State Capture era, and we are again dealing with yet another corruption scandal,” he said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Spotlight: Medical staff accuse Buthelezi EMS of running a taxi service, not an ambulance service
The Mongale case has been postponed until 31 January 2024 for further investigation.
Other criminal cases involving North West government officials include:
- Four suspects charged in a North West court over a dubious multimillion-rand SA Express contract. The Zondo Commission found that an SA Express contract worth R400-million was riddled with procurement irregularities and money was paid for services not rendered;
- North West is the focal point of more than 50 criminal cases involving theft of public money;
- Hennie Smit, a former municipal manager of Mahikeng Municipality, is facing a slew of charges including fraud, theft and money laundering regarding the 2007 sale of municipal land worth R144-million. Another five suspects were arrested in connection with this land deal two weeks ago, on 25 October. The Molopo Magistrates’ Court postponed the case against Lekitlane Mutsi, Brian Moholo, Tshiamo Moholo, Johannes Petrus van der Merwe and Barbara Christiane van der Merwe to 8 December 2023, in order to arrest the remaining suspects. DM