Gauteng Provincial Government on its COVID-19 response plans
05 August 2020
- Media Statement: Cogta Committee Welcomes Gauteng Province’s Covid-19 Response Plans
- COVID-19 Impact and Interventions Report
- Gauteng Covid-19 Strategy and Response Plan
Ahead of the forecast peak of COVID-19 cases, the Gauteng Department of Health presented its response plan in a virtual meeting to the Committee. The three core issues were corruption, personal protective equipment (PPE) and the matter of graves.
Regarding corruption, there was anger and dismay expressed by Members, who asked about internal controls and the progress of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). Concerns about PPE were part of the concerns about resource support in general, which included the availability of hospital beds and ventilators. It was ultimately assured that the Department was only 22 hospital beds short of meeting its target.
The quality of the PPE provided needed to be inspected, along with distribution processes for these items. It was emphasised that there were enough resources, but the distribution of these resources were the problem. The discussion on the issue of graves shed light on a serious misunderstanding which had also revealed challenges with procurement processes during the state of emergency. Ultimately, the MEC apologised unequivocally for this, and gave an assurance that the Department’s mandate was not to bury people, but to save them. Not only this, but it was also ready for the peak of COVID-19 cases.
The Gauteng Provincial Department of Education said that it too was ready to take learners back at school, with a break around September/October, in line with the forecasted peak. Considerable concern was expressed around the 35% of matriculants who had not returned to school. One of the biggest threats to the GDE was that it had received more than 6 000 applications from teachers who either wanted to retire or had co-morbidities. If it did not stagger teachers from leaving, this had the potential to collapse the education system in its entirety. As such, just over 1 000 applications had been accepted. Condolences were offered for educators, some learners and senior management members who had passed on due to COVID-19.
Both Departments assured the Committee of their readiness to deal with the coming COVID-19 peak.
The Chairperson began the meeting by welcoming the delegations from the Gauteng Province Department of Education (GDE), led by Mr Panyaza Lesufi, Education Member of the Executive Council (MEC), as the Premier was in quarantine, and the Gauteng Province Department of Health (GPDH) delegation, led by Mr Jacob Mamabolo, acting Health MEC.
Gauteng was home to more than 16 million people, and responsible for more than 34% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), so its response to COVID-19 would have a significant impact on the nation. It was therefore imperative for the province to slow down the rate of infection, though this was only half the battle. It was also imperative to provide those already infected with adequate care and support. News that Gauteng was leading the country’s recovery rates was well received.
The fight against COVID-19 was not just about saving lives, but also saving livelihoods. It was therefore heartening to see the adjustment to the budgets of Ward 3, Ward 4 and Ward 6 in the announcement by the President on 23 July. On behalf of the Portfolio Committee, the Chairperson expressed his anger and disappointment at the allegations of widespread corruption with emergency resources during the time of COVID-19. He said this was a matter that should make everyone sick. The country had to borrow money from the IMF and this situation was being exploited. This money was for communities in dire need. He commended the Premier for his efforts in combating this, and said he trusted that a report back on this would be provided at a later stage.
Gauteng Department of Education
MEC Lesufi began by apologising on behalf of the Premier, as he was in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, and was recovering.
The deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in certain communities near schools was part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the local government, police and SANDF. The school calendar had also been amended and adjusted. Much time had been lost, though the MEC emphasised that learners were safer at school than at home.
There was huge concern about learner attendance. 35% of matrics had not returned to school. Furthermore, more than 6 000 applications had been received, either by teachers who were retiring, or who had co-morbidities. This was a colossal threat to the Gauteng Education Department, as this had the potential to collapse the local education system. Other key issues dealt with in the report included the status of schools, learner attendance, COVID-19 case management, learner nutrition, learner transport, vandalism at schools, curriculum delivery, learner support at home, co-morbidity applications, plans for resumption and emerging risks.
Gauteng Department of Health
MEC Mamabolo asked Prof Mkhululi Lukhele, Head of Department (HOD): Gauteng Department of Health, to present the report to the meeting.
Prof Lukhele explained the developments of COVID-19 and how the Department was preparing for the peak. Matters addressed in the presentation included the COVID-19 six pillar strategy, the comprehensive health response, operating model, planning phases, scenario modelling, health resourcing plan, progress report on additional hospital beds, and financial resource requirements.
[see attached presentations]
Mr K Ceza (EFF) asked about the methods used to appoint construction companies who were to rebuild vandalised schools. Regarding the deployment of the army around schools, he wanted to know about lessons learnt from the killing of Mr Collins Khosa. What might be the psychological impact on children if anyone was killed? What should be the message to children if there were soldiers around while they were supposed to be concentrating on schoolwork? Who would the responsible persons or parties be, should anything go wrong with the deployment of the SANDF soldiers? He shared the sentiment of an advocate who had said that soldiers were not socialised with a responsibility towards human rights. Soldiers were mandated to ‘neutralise the enemy’ – in this case, he was concerned that ‘the enemy’ was the people of South Africa. Even worse, to find the SANDF around schools was worrying – how had this decision been informed, especially given what had been witnessed with the conduct of soldiers, let alone the metro police, who were also implicated?
Regarding the re-opening of schools, Mr Ceza enquired whether there were instances where the re-opening of schools had contributed to the safety of teachers, learners and non-learners against the virus. If so, how? If not, why were schools oscillating between being opened, closed and re-opened without scientific evidence pointing to whether schools were ready?
He went on to ask about the gender breakdown of educators and principals. Though 60% of educators in South Africa were female, only 20% of principals were women. Might this be an indication that patriarchy was raising its ‘ugly head’ in education? How many female principals were there in Gauteng, and what actions had been taken by the GDE to change the situation?
Addressing the Health Department, he said a R135 million irregular tender had been awarded in the province. How many companies were found to have used this deviation to create emergencies where there had been no emergencies at all? What were the consequential measures in terms of salaries and pensions for those implicated in the loss of COVID-19 funds? He referred to “trust, betrayal and broken promises” as “social treason.” He added that the Health MEC had been seen on social media inspecting graves, and requested an explanation for this. Furthermore, were the hospitals able to carry the load of infected patients, and what was the physical capacity of the nurses?
Mr H Hoosen (DA) appreciated the level of detail provided by both Departments, and focused his questions on the Department of Health. He reminded the meeting of the initial intention of the lockdown -- to create time for the Health Department to prepare for the peak of COVID-19. The level of detail exposed how far behind Gauteng was in terms of its own readiness for the peak. Could they give Members confidence that there would be sufficient beds, intensive care unit (ICU) beds, ventilators and the necessary personnel available at the peak of COVID-19? He requested the exact number of beds the Department had versus how many they still required. If the GPDH would not be ready by the peak, by what date would they be ready in all aspects?
He returned to the matter raised previously regarding the gravesites as seen on social media, and said South Africans were seeing graves prepared, irrespective of how many there were. What was the need to prepare graves when there were not enough beds? Surely the focus should have been on getting more beds and ventilators? He hoped that one million graves had not already been prepared, and asked how many graves had been prepared to date. Had this contract been awarded by the GPDH or the municipality, with internal government resources? He predicted there would be an active interest in the matter by the public, especially since the Portfolio Committee had not yet had an opportunity to be addressed by GPDH on this matter.
Mr Hoosen asked about the stock of ventilators and the number of ventilators that would be needed at the time of the peak. He acknowledged that the MEC had been placed on leave following corruption allegations, and encouraged the action being taken against him. Referring to the report conducted by the Gauteng audit services, that highlighted a number of possible areas of corruption in the GPDH, he asked to be provided with very clear information about what had been uncovered, and how it would be dealt with in the province. Given that the MEC was on leave, he understood from social media there had been a further suspension of a R1 billion purchase order, and requested comment on this. If the suspension had occurred because of suspicion, how would this impact on the province’s ability to have the necessary equipment to deal with the pandemic? Were there plans to make sure that there were sufficient provisions to get the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and other required hospital items?
He referred to a pertinent point raised by the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, at the time when the Western Cape was the Epicentre of COVID-19 in South Africa. The comment by the Minister that he had found important was that part of the problem in a province was that often, when the COVID-19 numbers were increasing, it was as a direct result of the province’s inability to identify, isolate and quarantine people who tested COVID-19 positive. He surmised that this same phenomenon was taking place in Gauteng, where numbers were increasing rapidly. As such, he requested that the province provide information on their efforts at isolating communities as and when they found them. While he understood that individuals could not be forced to quarantine, measures nonetheless had to be taken to ensure that community members were not spreading the virus even further. Looking at the figures provided, he doubted that there was 100% capacity of their quarantine facility, and questioned whether this was an area of focus for the GPDH.
Ms H Mkhaliphi (EFF) described the numbers provided about teachers and learners that had tested positive for COVID-19 as “worrisome.” She requested details around the plan to address the figure of 3 699 teachers who were older than 60 years in particular, and had applied to leave schools. She expressed her dismay about the peak of the virus, which was forecast to come to Gauteng in mid-August/September. She was concerned about the remainder of the school year, as schools were returning on 24 August which, according to the presentation, appeared to be the same time as the peak of COVID-19 infections. Could GPDH shed some light on this plan, as it was not a great story to tell?
The infrastructure backlog was “very problematic”. She referred to a social media post by Dr Ndlozi of the EFF before 6 July, when schools were due to re-open. The video showed the appalling conditions of the school in the ‘Vaal’, which she was sure the Minister and many Members of the Portfolio Committee had seen. She was alarmed that schools were in such a state. The MEC was asked to indicate how backlogs in schools would be addressed, where schools had no proper toilets, bearing in mind that running water was vital in the fight against COVID-19.
Regarding matters of corruption, it appeared that there had been a report based on a judgment by the South Gauteng High Court after three schools had approached it demanding R15 million from the Department. It seemed the GDE was aware of this, as an e-mail had been found which communicated to these schools that the money for the request had been released. She raised this because the matter had also gained public attention, prompting the question of how many such cases had occurred in the GDE. It had been speculated that this case might be “the tip of the iceberg”.
She asked the acting Health MEC for an update on how far action against the previous MEC and other officials had progressed. There had been a Twitter post by Shonisani Lethole, shortly before he died in the Thembisa Hospital because he had not been given food. Had the GPDH conducted an investigation in this regard? What was the way forward? Had the family of the deceased been contacted in light of the circumstances? She felt it fair and appropriate that the Department reach out to the family in this manner, as no one should die at a hospital when they should receive help. Reports had been received that the Thembisa hospital, like other hospitals in Gauteng, were in a poor state of repair, even prior to COVID-19. A patient, Ms Gugulethu Magumeni from Kagiso, had come to a different Gauteng hospital, but had received such poor treatment, in that she had had to wait for a long time in the hospital passage until her baby died. She requested a report on this matter to be sent to the Committee.
Ms G Opperman (DA) wanted to know how much vandalism damage had cost the GDE over the past six months. How had it dealt with schools that had reported dry boreholes and poor water pressure from the local municipalities?
Addressing the GPDH, she said 102 companies were being probed for COVID-19 looting in Gauteng alone. How had COVID-19 tender corruption affected the province? Even before the pandemic, billions were being looted in the Health Department alone. What steps had been taken by the province to recover these funds? Referring to allegations in social media, she said an alleged R13 000 was spent per bed on the Nasrec field hospital, which amounted to 1 000 beds for R13 million. Furthermore, it was also suggested that the GPDH had spent R18 000 on wall clocks, meaning 40 wall clocks were purchased at R450 each. Was the GPDH investigating the Nasrec field hospital? How much truth was in these allegations?
Ms M Tlou (ANC) commended the GDE MEC, and said that they had worked very well together. She could see that he was very careful and committed to the entire school plan progress and processes in Gauteng. However, there were teachers who had complained about time lost because of COVID-19, so had a comprehensive intervention been developed in drawing up a programme of becoming more responsive in all timetables for school lessons and study guides for learners who were having lessons at home? Was there any such programme? Home teaching meant that there were learners who were being taught by their parents. Who was monitoring and evaluating the work they were doing -- for example, by marking their scripts and advising them in going forward for the final year exams? It had also been acknowledged that 35% of matriculants were not coming to school. What mechanisms and measures would be put in place so that matriculants could return to school and recover wasted time? How would the GDE help these learners recover wasted time?
Mr B Hadebe (ANC) began with the highly discussed and controversial discussion around the procurement of PPE in the GDH. This included allegations of nepotism, corruption and bias, which had led to an outcry. Unfortunately, among those who were implicated or alleged to have benefited, were some members of the executive. After National Treasury had issued regulations on the procurement of goods and services in relation to COVID-19, including PPE, there had been concerns. There had been a call to government to do everything to guard against possible abuse and stealing of COVID-19 funds. This had been based primarily on previous experience within government entities, departments and municipalities which, from audit outcomes, showed issues of misuse of public funds. This included calls from the President that funds be used for their intended purpose. He asked the GPDH what the internal control measures were to avoid abuse of the procurement processes, over and above what National Treasury had issued as regulations. Could the Members be provided with an understanding of the processes and criteria for selecting the companies which had benefited? There had been a shocking and disturbing allegation that an official would sit in the office, go through the list, and choose whichever company that they thought should benefit. He urged the GPDH to allay such fears, and provide a detailed understanding of the process and criteria followed.
Though the country was in a state of emergency, certain checks and balances ought to have been followed, nonetheless. Furthermore, how often did the GPDH get to monitor in order to ascertain whether the control measures had been effective? Had the Department seen a need to review the internal control measures, based on its assessment of whether such measures were effective or not? How many black small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) had benefited? Could it quantify the local content in the procurement spent? How much had been imported? Had there been an investigation to determine whether there had been inflation of prices or fronting? How far was the GPDH in ensuring that the perception that internal control was non-existent was being addressed as a potential shortcoming?
Addressing both MECs, the Chairperson said this was the first time since 1994 that, because of the pandemic, huge amounts of money was being spent without an open tender process. She felt confident that there had never been a period where the government had acted outside of the provision of Section 217 of the Constitution, which called for transparent procurement, amongst other things. She commended the swift action by the Premier towards transparency and anti-corruption. In May, he had been on record as saying that the matter had been relayed to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). How far was this development? Furthermore, did the province have a strategy to ensure vigilance beyond the state of disaster, based on the six-pillar approach previously presented?
The Chairperson requested further clarity on the issue of the economic recovery plan. She referred to the grave programme launched by the MEC in Pretoria, where it had been recorded that he had said they were ready for 1.5 million graves to be dug. How would this impact the health portfolio? What did the health portfolio have to do with graves? How did this impact the provision of hospital beds and ventilators? This was particularly concerning, in light of the deaths of health personnel and teachers due to COVID-19. Why would the Portfolio Committee need to focus on providing graves instead of focusing on facilities and PPE for doctors, nurses and other frontline workers?
Another issue was related to expenditure. Apart from those cases being picked up by the media, was attention being paid to oversight? This was a key role for Parliament, and for the Treasury. Regarding the positive cases in schools, there was a region south of Johannesburg that had seen 73 affected with COVID-19, yet no schools had been closed. Was it possible to provide an explanation for the variance in the geographical spread of COVID-19? Were these figures also based on the population density?
Department of Education
MEC Lesufi began by referring to the SANDF deployment, and said the GDE was still engaging with the army, and at the time of the meeting they were busy concluding an MOU between the two parties. In the memorandum, it had been quite clear that there should not be any military interaction involving learners.
It was at this point that Mr David Maimela, Chief of Staff, Office of the MEC for Health, indicated that wanted to raise an issue.
The Chairperson explained that Mr Maimela would need to raise his issue through the acting MEC of Health.
MEC Lesufi continued that the reality was that schools were being disrupted in the province, and law enforcement agencies had therefore indicated that they had the backup of the army. Regulations would be published on how the army should support the police, so this was not a choice – this was a part of the package offered by the police. The GDE had thus not approached the SANDF, showing that the MOU was of critical importance. The understanding in context was that SANDF soldiers were not to harass, attack or harm learners. This would be monitored when the MOU was finalised. This would also be shared with the Committee. What was needed was to ensure that everyone was protected, that facilities were protected etc.
Based on reports, there were 351 schools that had been vandalised. This could not merely be ignored -- these schools needed to be protected and all law enforcement agencies had to assist the GDE. While the Department was not ignorant of events that had occurred in the past, the MOU that was used to engage the SANDF would specifically indicate that the SANDF was not to harm learners in any way. He had found that what the SANDF was doing was commendable, such as sanitising schools, screening learners and providing support where there were cases of infection, as it had a medical team. This was therefore about support, not “skiet en donder.” He appreciated the efforts of the SANDF.
MEC Lesufi said he was a proponent of schools being open, because within the schooling environment learners were screened before entering the school premises and the classroom. There was also social distancing, wearing of masks, sanitising, provision of school nutrition and knowledge. By contrast, if schools were closed and learners stayed home, only a few would continue to receive these benefits. The majority of learners would not get these benefits, because if they were at home there would be no social distancing, no wearing of masks, and no support such as nutrition. Therefore, children were better off on the school premises. He believed this was an investment that needed to be protected. It was obvious that the GDE needed to be guided by experts. If the experts felt that learners should be at home purely because there would be another wave, the Department would listen to this and respect the decision. From an academic point of view, however, it believed that the majority of learners were better off in the school environment. For those that did not want to be in the school environment, processes had been made available through home schooling and lockdown schooling, and the majority of learners were taking advantage of this. The MEC did not think that this approach was harming the school environment, though unfortunately they were fighting a virus that they had not known four months previously. The virus was also invisible, and the GDE did not know how long it would last. This would involve a trial and error process, as no one could give definite answers on anything. There was a need to manoeuvre in the available space, and the GDE had tried “very hard” to do so.
MEC Lesufi said he did not have the figures of the gender breakdown of teachers and principals, but he recalled that in 2019/2020 there was almost a 50/50 spread in female and male educators, as well as principalships, though he was not sure if the figures had changed. He expressed his pride, as he believed that women needed to be given respect, to be promoted, and given opportunities not on the basis that they were women, but on the basis that they were doing very well. The majority of schools that were led by women were doing exceptionally well. Within this context, he felt that women needed to be given opportunities to run some of Gauteng’s schools.
The MEC said he was worried by the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in schools. What comforted the Department was that the GPDH had assured that the virus spread was not happening within school premises, but rather within communities. Positive cases had been found through screening, which happened as learners and staff arrived at school. In these instances, for example, if a temperature was high, the person was taken to an isolation point, and it could be found that the person was COVID-19 positive. In other situations, staff might report that they could not come to work as they had tested positive for COVID-19. The fact that learners were not becoming positive in the schools was an encouragement for the GDE, but the number of positive cases among learners and staff was worrisome.
The number of applications for retirement and resignation by teachers over the age of 60 was very high. If the Department could not manage this properly, this would give them difficulties. There was thus a need to stagger teachers leaving, involving five primary criteria. These included how difficult it was to replace the teacher, and the extent of their co-morbidities. For example, it might be more difficult to replace a life orientation teacher than a mathematics teacher.
MEC Lesufi confirmed that there was an anticipated peak in COVID19 cases, and so the GDE had persuaded the national Minister to revise the calendar so there would be a school break for learners around September/October, so that the Department could manage the COVID-19 peak. This had been based on advice given to the Department, which believed the break would truly be effective. Furthermore, the academic year had also been extended to December 15 for matriculants. Matric results would be made available around February 2021. At least there was a briefing space that was assisting the GPDE to manage the situation.
Referring to the damaged school infrastructure and the video circulated on social media, he said the reality was that the particular school in the video had been burnt down and deliberately vandalised. Those who had been opposed to the reopening of schools had targeted some schools and, in most instances, targeted sanitation and water knowing that it would cause maximum damage because the COVID-19 matter was related to the need for water and sanitation. He was proud to announce that GDE had fixed all schools, including the school in the video. He did not understand why individuals would go to a public school and throw stones into toilets and expect the government to take the blame – this was unacceptable. The school in the video was one where the community “had declared war” against the school. Sometimes it was impossible for the Department to accept blame when this was the same community that had declared war against their own school – burning it, vandalising it, breaking in and stealing items inside the schools. Fortunately, these matters had been resolved.
MEC Lesufi referred to the court case involving schools’ subsidies, and said he was aware of isiKhumbuzo Secondary School, but not the other two schools mentioned. As this was a matter that had been handed to the court, he was very reluctant to express his thoughts at the meeting. As a general statement, he reminded Members that it was not automatic to subsidise schools. Schools which were in need of subsidies were required to adhere to basic procedures. One of these included accounting for funds allocated to their school. Additionally, if there were whistle-blowers from these schools who indicated irregularities or non-compliance, this would result in the withholding of funds from GPDE. He committed to following-up on the three schools raised by Ms Mkhaliphi, so that he could provide feedback if there was a need to do so.
In response to Ms Opperman’s question, the MEC said he did not have figures on the cost of vandalism, but could assure Members that vandalism was costly. The GDE felt strongly that there had been a deliberate campaign by those who were opposed to the re-opening of schools, to vandalise schools so that their views could be heard. He would consolidate the figures and share these as soon as they were received, including the matter about dry boreholes and low water pressure.
Regarding teacher complaints about time lost, he said that now that the academic calendar had been changed, the GDE believed that they were accommodating more students, although the reality was also that three months had been lost. This was why the curriculum needed to be trimmed and the annual teaching plan needed to be amended. He hoped that with the amended school timelines, the concerns of teachers had been addressed. There had been study guides, television lessons, PowerPoint presentations and other resources for support so that teachers did not need to struggle to deliver those lessons.
He was particularly concerned about the 35% of learners who were not back at school, as this kind of situation could not be afforded, especially in South Africa. The GDE’s skills base was minimum – the only way to fight inequality was in ensuring that children did not miss out on opportunity was through education, not social grants. If children could not receive an education, the GDE would revert back to the situation that they aimed to rectify. Not only was he concerned, but the nation should be concerned about high numbers of matriculants who were not back at school. The GDE felt it needed to stabilise the schooling environment, so that people did not feel intimidated about returning to school. Online support also needed to be ensured, along with ensuring that those without computers were given work to do. The Department was monitoring this situation “very closely,” as it was something that required their immediate attention.
MEC Lesufi said there was a need to apologise to society on behalf of the Gauteng government, as there had been a serious miscommunication on the issue of the graves. He was disappointed with the manner in which this had been communicated. The reality was that government did not have a strategy or policy on digging graves. What had been communicated was that there was a desire to consolidate the number of graves available from all municipalities. In this process, the message did not go well, and for that he apologised. It truly was a communication that had gone wrong. There was a belief that culturally, the matter of graves had been communicated as something that affected others badly. The Department did not have an agenda to bury their people, but had an agenda to heal citizens. They did not have an agenda to “throw people into graves,” but for people to go home because they had been given the necessary medication. He hoped that Members would find it in their hearts to accept the apology.
He said the appointment of the MEC had been made on the basis of the decision of the Premier. The Premier had also made arrangements that the law enforcement agencies, in particular the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) must go through all the accounts, and it had been given four to six weeks to do this. The Department pleaded for patience, as there was also a clear directive that the President had signed, that all agencies should go through all accounts in this matter. He believed there was not a single account that would not be reached. Within six weeks, the MEC would be in a position to share this information. The provincial government had taken a decision to monitor all other related accounts, some of which had reports that had led to accounts being stopped and investigated. The distribution of PPE had been centralised, but since the investigations had started, this had been decentralised so that the responsible line managers (HODs) could take full responsibility for this kind of work. He promised to report back on these issues, and how they would be dealt with.
Department of Health
MEC Mamabolo re-affirmed the apology from MEC Lesufi on the graves matter, adding that both groups would definitely put the matter behind them and would focus on saving the lives of citizens.
He welcomed the positive feedback from the Premier’s very detailed and comprehensive address which he had made the precious week, in which he had reaffirmed the position of the provincial government to root out corruption. All matters relating to the COVID-19 supply chain, logistics and procurement had been well and truly placed in the hands of law enforcement agencies. He appealed for the law enforcement agencies to be allowed to deal with the matter decisively. On behalf of his Department, he assured Members that they would get to the bottom of the issues and deal with them promptly and swiftly.
He said that since being appointed the previous Friday, he and his team had visited 26 health facilities in three days. This included two facilities for the storage of PPE -- one located in Centurion and the other in Roodepoort. It was becoming clear where PPE was available, as well as the issues around PPE, and the GPDH was dealing with this matter. The Director-General (DG), who was also at the meeting, had also visited the two PPE facilities mentioned. Following the challenges experienced in the province, the Department would make an announcement on this issue and would comprehensively deal with it based on observations by the MEC and the DG in the province. At the same time, it would be ensured that the distribution of PPE to health workers and workers in general across government Departments was done in the most efficient and effective way. Particular and specific details of this would be announced, as well as reports to the Committee on just how this would occur once they had consolidated their reports the following day. The MEC committed himself to doing this to confirm how they would protect workers on the frontline going forward.
MEC Mamabolo said the Department was ready for the peak of COVID-19 cases and the “storm” that was coming in the period, based on the scientific model that had been done. Where challenges persisted, he was confident in the Department’s ability to close and tighten up loose ends. Members could “rest assured” that the provincial government would be able to manage the peak period. There had been issues about human resources (HR) capacity, infrastructure, devices and equipment, and PPE itself, but he was sure that the GPDH would be able to respond adequately to the challenges in the coming weeks.
In this regard, he requested that the HOD address matters raised regarding availability of beds, other matters and issues of supply chain lists, adding that these could be submitted in writing. He asked the Chairperson for permission to send the lists of the companies involved. He also asked that the DG, be allowed to speak, although MEC Lesufi had well covered the education issues that had been raised. He would contact Ms Mkhaliphi offline, as she was welcome to “come back” as she was a product of the ANC, and a “very good investment” they had made. He joked that they had the right of recall and said this would be discussed offline, along with feedback of recalling the Member from where she was at the time.
Ms Mkhaliphi called for order in the meeting, but the Chairperson reminded her that the meeting format did not allow for points of order, and that matters needed to be deliberated.
Prof Lukhele responded on the critical need for hospital beds. According the GPDH’s model, 2 400 beds were required, and at the time there had been progression from 373 beds to 2 378 beds, meaning it was 22 beds short. However, he reminded Members that COVID-19 was a virus that was changing, which meant that treatment was changing, the number of ventilators needed was changing -- and potentially less, because clinicians were using a different method, especially with the introduction of dexamethasone. Regarding the ICU and high-care beds, the GPDH was ready. It had been estimated that 7 500 ward beds were needed. With all the interventions made, the deaths indicated that there may be only 3 000 beds, which may be shortfall. In the end, these would be compensated for by including all the ‘fever tents’ and Community Health Centre (CHC) services. The services of private practitioners had also been strengthened in the various wards. In other words, the GPDH believed that with its preparations, it was ready and would not be short of beds, especially with the fact that they had been increased with the field hospitals at NASREC and Tshwane. Another hospital had also been identified in the city which would be available for use.
As of 17 April, the GPDH had started putting in controls after a letter had been written to the audit committee, to assist by separating the role of payment and the role of the supply chain. There had already been a role of the supply chain which was chaired by the Deputy Director-General (DDG) from the Department’s provincial treasury. The Department had also established evaluation committees which were chaired by individuals outside of the GPDH and the adjudication committee. It had also been reported that controls at the warehouse had been improved.
MEC Mamabolo prompted the HOD to respond to matters surrounding to the events at Thembisa Hospital and others. He committed to going to investigate the matter and visiting the family, as asked by Ms Mkhaliphi, and would send a report on this investigation.
Prof Lekhele continued that he would like to share the report regarding Thembisa Hospital when the matter was thoroughly investigated. There needed to be many corrections made to the information presented. The investigation on the twins at Chris Hani was following a process in which an investigation had been initiated by the GPDH, the results of which would come through. It had already been found that some articulations had not been truthful.
Ms Phindile Baleni, DG, Office of the Gauteng Premier, said she did not have much to add, and aligned herself with the points made by the MECs. She underscored the fact that the GPDH had been very concerned by the control environment right from the beginning of the implementation of the COVID-19 response. A number of control mechanisms had been put in place, over and above the traditional ones that would have existed in the Department. For instance, alternative chief financial officers (CFOs) had been appointed, along with various DGs to support the CFOs in the Department of Health. The internal audit reviews had also been run as a matter of oversight of internal controls, to check whether these were working. It was during this process that some of the problems had been discovered. Examples of these problems found by the Gauteng Audit Services involved food distribution and parcels, donations and procurement. Where controls were not working, the DG and her officials had found what the deficiencies were, which in fact had led to the investigation being instituted with the SIU coming on site around 4 June to investigate. The SIU had been investigating up until the time of the meeting, but had not yet handed over their reports. Once these reports were availed by the SIU and others who were investigating, the information would be shared with the relevant committees.
Mr Hadebe said he was mindful of the fact that some of the issues raised were before the SIU. As such, it would be practically impossible for Members to receive a detailed response, but he asked for clarity in relation to the internal control measures in place. In the GPDH in particular, were there adequate internal control measures in place to avoid what was highlighted as a potential danger – the abuse of COVID-19 funds? If there were such internal control measures in place, how often were those reviewed? He described how he had heard over the media of instances where an official would sit in front of his or her computer, and randomly pick from a list of service providers and appoint them. Whether or not such reports were true was yet to be confirmed. If not true, could Members be given an understanding of the criteria and process followed in dealing with emergency procurement over and above what had been issued by National Treasury as a regulation? How did the GPDH utilise the procurement systems to ensure prices provided were cost effective? Was this not just a case of looking at the list and choosing names? He said he could wait for a detailed understanding after the SIU’s report, but in the interim requested some level of understanding on the matter. There would still be a need for service providers outside the normal procurement processes. At the Portfolio Committee level, there was a desire for measures in place that would assist adequately to check what transpired in the public domain. This could not wait for the SIU in order to know the outcome, but was something that ought to be in place if it was not in place previously.
Mr Hoosen wanted to show appreciation for the apology that MEC Lesufi had made on the issue of the graves. He felt that if more MECs and ministers were to apologise in the manner in which he had for the mistakes made, the country would be “in a better place.” It had been humble of the MEC to apologise - he appreciated this, and accepted the explanation provided. When the matter had emerged, there had been a second part to the issue around the graves, which was the perception created in the public domain that grave sites were being dug as an opportunity for some company to get a tender. Therefore, the country was not only upset about the government digging graves instead of getting more hospital beds, they were also upset that this matter was about creating opportunity for a company. This was why he had asked exactly how many graves had been dug, and whether this was done by a contractor, tender or municipality? He urged MEC Lesufi to respond to this, so that progress could be made, having a sense of confidence that the matter was under control. For example, if this was an instance about a tender, so be it. If it was investigated, that was also good – at least the information was shared with Members.
Ms Mkhaliphi acknowledged that the acting MEC for Health could not have all the answers, as this was an acting position, but she wanted the MEC to take Members into his confidence on what had happened at Mamelodi Hospital on the day of the meeting. It had been reported that the residents had barricaded the major street due to power failures that had not been attended to. She was aware the MEC would return as leader of a delegation, and agreed with Mr Hoosen that the MEC was very responsive. She thought that there might have been oversight, where a matter had been raised without response. A particular student at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) had a very sad story and she had asked the MEC to intervene. The MEC for Social Development would be visiting the following day. She suggested the MEC send an SMS as a form of intervention. The student wanted to continue with her studies in engineering, but their mother did not have a house and sometimes they did not have electricity for the child to charge and use the gadgets needed for her studies.
The Chairperson referred to a slide which detailed COVID-19 cases in correctional facilities. As the MEC was presenting, he had referred to the death of two correctional officers. She suggested the MEC should provide a similar breakdown of all correctional institutions in the province in terms of the number of infections per facility, to allow for analysis. This could be submitted as part of the other information already promised for submission by the MEC.
On a different note, the lack of PPE among healthcare workers was worrying. The MEC’s health facility visits were acknowledged. She was of the view that a robust assurance about the quality of the PPE was required in procurement. Already, there had been over 130 healthcare workers that had succumbed to COVID-19 due to the lack of quality PPE. The MEC was asked to respond to such allegations.
MEC Mamabolo agreed that the issue of the robustness and effectiveness of internal controls had come out in the province – particularly those dealing with supply chain, procurement and logistics. Oversight on these had proven without doubt that they needed to be dealt with. He assured Members that there would be a return to the drawing board, looking at internal controls as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), coordination between SIU, the Auditor General’s (AG’s) office, law enforcement conducting a lifestyle audit, and the Departmental leadership. At the time, the “low hanging fruit” was to protect the GPDH and look at the effectiveness of the internal audit function. This was one matter that the GPDH would look at, and assess levels of exposure which might cause problems. Those found to be on the “wrong side” of the PFMA and any other legislative controls would be dealt with, without fear, favour or prejudice. Issues would be dealt with decisively.
He said the GPDH was in the process of appointing PPE champions, which was an instruction given by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize two days earlier. In Gauteng, there were also other controls and systems which helped to deal with issues relating to PPE, such as quantitative supply, availability, accessibility, quality assurance and making sure that there was proper accountability. Best practice would thus certainly be introduced to ensure that workers were not vulnerable. In Centurion and Roodepoort, it had been confirmed that there was an adequate supply of PPE. The problem was distribution, which was part of the issues of corruption. Companies which were found to be on the “wrong side” of supply chain policy would be confronted. With the quantities being stored in the aforementioned facilities, it would be possible to transition to a proper process without compromising the operations at the time. The transition would thus be possible to be managed effectively.
MEC Mamabolo confirmed that violence had occurred on the same day as the meeting in Mamelodi, adding that community members had taken to the streets because of electricity issues. There had been a perception that this was about taxi problems, though the matter had correctly been clarified by the local taxi association. The MEC assured Members that the police, taxi industry and stakeholders had opened the routes and the Department looked forward to much more stable operations the following day in Mamelodi. The reports that were committed to be given to Members would still be done, and the MEC reiterated his commitment to do follow-up visits to the Thembisa family, as raised by Ms Mkhaliphi. As part of his closing remarks, he added that the GPDH looked forward to improving their robustness and that they would uphold the constitution regulating their work.
The Chairperson added that the MEC should look into the quality of the PPE. Though numbers and stock might be high, the quality of the PPE had come into question, especially in light of complaints from health workers.
MEC Lesufi said it was difficult to ascertain whether there had been a tender process for the digging of graves. This responsibility lay with local government. Municipalities were the ones that had the mandate to dig graves. It would be extremely difficult to know if this was done using their own members, of if the job was outsourced to other service providers. What he had apologised for in particular was that there was no strategy from government’s side, especially the Gauteng provincial government, to dig one million graves. This was not in the GPDH’s plans, and was not going to be part of their plans. As such, since there had been a communication breakdown, the MEC once more apologised for this and assured that they would make a follow-up on the issues raised.
There was a strong belief that efforts within the GPDH should be directed towards making sure that it would succeed. The issues of PPEs and other issues in the public domain, such as that of PPEs, had taken GPDH back to ensuring that they were pushing back COVID-19 and flattening the curve. However, since systems had been put in place, there was an acting MEC and law enforcement agencies investigating these matters, and he truly believed the GPDH should direct its energy towards flattening the curve, but most importantly, to be ready for the next wave – if it were to come. This referred to the number of beds, the amount of support availed to working doctors and frontline workers in the health sectors, and also to assuring people that when they came to government facilities, they would get help.
The mere fact that GPDH was occupying the front pages of various media houses and hitting headlines was an indication that there were limitations, so the Department needed to go back and address these limitations. If one were to check the institutions which were given the work they needed to do, it was clear there were gaps. In dealing with these matters, he stressed the importance of not reversing the initial intention that legitimate companies should be given the work by the government. He said Members should refrain from painting everyone who had provided services as corrupt. Those who were bad needed to be treated without mercy and, if need be, needed to return taken resources.
The Chairperson confirmed that meeting would proceed on the following day, and it would be great to have both MECs there the following day.
The meeting was adjourned.