Mpumalanga Provincial Government on its COVID-19 response plan

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

27 August 2020 

Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (NA) 27 Aug 2020

The Committee was briefed Mpumalanga Provincial Government (MPG) departments: Department of Health (MDOH), Department of Social Development (MDSD), Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (MCOGTA), Department of Education (MDOE) and Department of Human Settlements (MDHS) on their Covid-19 response plans.

In its briefing, MDOH indicated that it was able to stem the surge of cases in the province because of the success of its contact tracing initiative. Through this initiative, it was able to identify infected individuals and place them in quarantine.

Members were pleased that the province’s recovery rate stood at 92%, which is higher than the national average. However, they were disappointed about allegations of corruption for the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the department. This had overshadowed the good work of MDOH. Focus was placed on its procurement of branded umbrellas and backpacks and of computer tablets for Community Healthcare Workers (CHW). Members noted discrepancies for the cost of items. They requested a written response on procurement.

MDOE indicated that whilst it was able to provide PPE to schools and deep-clean classrooms, some schools still lacked water and sanitation. This was mainly due to the long-standing poor infrastructure at schools. Members raised their concern that this still remained a challenge in the province. MDOE had recently approved a budget for schools that had been vandalised. Members questioned if the budget allocated was enough.

In its briefing, MDSD mentioned that the task of providing food parcels to needy families and individuals had proved difficult – as the number of people who required social relief had increased due to loss of income. However, even with the difficult task at hand, it was able to provide food parcels to those that qualified. Food parcels distributed included 40 000 parcels donated by the Department of Agriculture (DOA) at R805.50 per parcel and MDSD spent R900 per food parcel which included transportation costs. As directed by the National Department of Social Development (DSD), MDSD had to move homeless people and place them in shelters. Catering services were provided to the shelters. Members questioned how it was able to cater for the homeless without a budget. The department clarified that as it was a national directive, it had to do so, and it had received support from DSD.

MDHS indicated that from lockdown Level 3, construction activities had reopened. Priority was given to emergency housing projects, informal settlement upgrade projects and houses at advanced stages of completion. A Provincial Mass Sanitation and Disinfection Plan – for the mass disinfection of informal settlements in the province – was developed by the department. As MDHS mentioned that it had not moved people out of their informal settlements, Members asked why the department had not moved people into temporary shelters. MDHS explained it had decided to rather take a long-term approach and improve the informal settlements.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
Under the circumstances, MDOH must be applauded for the success of its interventions during the Covid-19 pandemic. It reported that there are currently no patients in the quarantine sites and the province has a 92% recovery rate. This was higher than the national level. Whilst the Committee was pleased with the department’s work, it was displeased to hear that there had been alleged corruption in the procurement of PPE. The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) indicated that it had initiated an investigation into the department and the Premier indicated that her Office would constitute an independent investigation into the departments of the province.

The Committee also expressed its disappointment that the province still struggled to provide schools with water and sanitation. This had been a long-standing issue in the province and had to be dealt with.

Mpumalanga Department of Health Covid-19 response plan
MDOH Head of Department, Dr Savera Mohangi, noted that the first case was detected in the Nkomazi Local Municipality on 11 March. The department followed the National Government strategy of active case finding, and was successful in its contact tracing initiative, hence the low number of cases in the province. Once the Community Screening and Testing Strategy had been launched by the Premier, the department used 6 119 of their CHWs to screen in all the municipalities. 520 nursing assistants were contracted by the department to form part of the team of CHWs. To assist with contact tracing, the department, with the assistance of its partners, developed the Siyayinqoba Sisonke Mobile App. This App allowed the department to monitor potential hotspots for testing and screening. It proved successful for its efforts to quell the spread of the disease in the communities.

The department had experienced three main challenges. The first was the low screening coverage, particularly in urban areas. One of planned remedies was to conduct screening in high transmission areas, like retail centres and taxi ranks. The second challenge was the anxiety and depression experienced by CHWs. The department had put in place psychological support systems, such as counselling, to provide assistance. The third challenge was that it had inadequate transport to reach remote villages. To overcome this, officials had been encouraged to share their vehicles and local municipalities had rented cars for the use of officials.

Although it had experienced several challenges, the department was pleased with the success of its interventions during the pandemic. With the assistance of its CHWs, it had been able to stem the surge of cases in the province.

MDSD food distribution and interventions during lockdown
Head of Mpumalanga Department of Social Development, Ms Bellinah Mojapelo, said as the department is key in the provision of social services to vulnerable individuals and families, it had to develop a plan that would provide social relief. The department had a difficult task, as the lockdown left many of its residents without a form of income and it had to extend its social relief programme to include unemployed individuals. Covid-19 relief beneficiaries included: street vendors, hawkers, domestic workers, taxi marshals and waste pickers. Due to the lockdown regulations, the department had to move the homeless from the streets and house them in shelters.

In line with DSD directives, it introduced a Covid-19 basic food package, valued at R805 to socially distressed families. Applications were screened at a nerve centre, to verify qualifying applicants. The Provincial Command Council (PCC) resolved that the food parcels would be distributed through the wards. Most of the food was purchased by the department but several companies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) made donations to the department. The department faced challenges with the process. The first was the high demand for food parcels, with a limited budget. Second, the department did not have a well-established IT system that could prevent the duplication of applications, but with the easing of the lockdown regulations, there had been a decreased demand in food parcels.

The department decided to first continue providing meals to the needy through the Community Nutrition Development Centres (CNDC) and the Provincial Food Distribution Centres. Second, to provide Social Relief of Distress (SRD) to needy families. The department indicated that it had put in measures to prevent the theft of food parcels by Ward Councillors.

Mpumalanga Department of Human Settlements
Mpumalanga Human Settlements MEC, Ms Norah Mahlangu, said with the easing of lockdown regulations under Level 3, the department reopened all construction activities. Priority was given to emergency housing projects, informal settlement upgrade projects and houses at advanced stages of completion. A total of 1882 housing units had been prioritised for completion in 2020-21. A Provincial Mass Sanitation and Disinfection Plan – for the mass disinfection of informal settlements in the province – was developed by the department.

Mpumalanga Department of Education
Head of Mpumalanga Department of Education, Mr Jabulani Nkosi, said during lockdown the department had to begin preparations for the re-opening of schools. This included the procurement of PPE, disinfection of schools, procurement of water tankers and the revised school curriculum. The department had been able to adequately prepare and some of these processes are still ongoing. Whilst many of the schools in the province have opened, there are still a number of schools still closed – particularly in the Nkangala District. These schools have faced challenges with a lack of availability of toilets, water outages and lack of sanitation.

The department has recognised the emerging issues that might affect the functionality of schools including lack of water and sanitation, shortage of classrooms and a shortage of space in hostels. However, it had committed to attending to each of the challenges, to ensure that all learners are provided a safe learning environment.

Ms P Xaba-Ntshaba (ANC) indicated that the Health presentation did not provide the amount paid to secure rental vehicles. She asked for the number of companies given tenders to distribute PPE and how much each company had received. Had the companies awarded the tenders passed due process. In many instances throughout the country, due process had not been followed.

Mr H Hoosen (DA) reminded Members that when the Western Cape briefed the Committee, it indicated that the high number of Covid-19 cases was due to the large influx of tourists in the province. Whilst Mpumalanga had also received many tourists, it had been able to curb its infections fairly quickly. He made this comparison to illustrate the good work performed by MDOH. However, the allegations of Covid-19 corruption and irregular expenditure in the province had overshadowed the good work.

He expressed his concern that the internal investigations by the provincial government would not amount to anything as officials would be investigating themselves. In light of this, the SIU should conduct the investigation on alleged corruption in each department.

As several epidemiologists have warned of the risk of a second wave of infections, he asked if the department was ready to prevent another surge and what mechanisms were in place.

Lekwa Local Municipality still faced the same challenges and he asked what MCOGTA intended to do to address these. 

Ms H Mkhaliphi (EFF) appreciated the presentations. Whilst the provincial government had done good work, several challenges remained in the province. For instance, it had been reported that a male individual had been shot outside a hospital in the Witbank area. She asked how this could occur outside a hospital and what it meant for the safety of the workers.

She expressed concern that the Mapulaneng hospital was still in use as it was in a bad condition. She asked how much had been allocated to the renovation of the hospital. Bushbuckbridge residents alleged that to date, nearly R33 billion had been spent on the hospital. She asked if the department could either confirm or deny the allegations. If confirmed, could it explain why it had not allocated this amount to the construction of a new hospital.

Patients at the Vrede Clinic in Nelspruit had complained that they experienced long queues and had to receive medical treatment outside of the province as a result. She asked how much the theatre machine had cost which it had bought for Themba Hospital, had cost. The machine had not yet been used by the hospital.

The MDOE presentation stated that 449 schools still had challenges with sanitation, and this was a historical issue caused by the lack of infrastructure. Why had the department not exploited the opportunity of extra funding from National Treasury to fix its infrastructure. A budget for infrastructure development was approved by MDOE yet several schools still used pit latrine toilets.

MDSD has no offices in Bushbuckbridge. Instead the officials were found in clinics and schools. Why could it not provide offices for its officials.

Workers in mines still faced difficult labour conditions. For instance, in one of the mines, workers had still not been provided compensation after they had been retrenched. She asked the MPG to provide a response on this either now or in a written response. Illegal mining also remained a challenge as the provincial government had not attended to the matter.

The media had alleged that R444 million had been spent by MDOH on tablets, umbrellas and labelled backpacks. She asked if the allegations were true.

Mr K Ceza (EFF) referred to the radio jingle that the department had produced. The budget involved a voiceover artist to perform the jingle and paying royalties every time the advert was played. He asked for the cost and why it had agreed that the advert should pay a usage fee. Who had benefited from the work and what agencies had been involved in the project?

Many residents of Emakhazeni Local Municipality had co-morbidities, yet MDOH expected them to quarantine in the Witbank area. What had informed the decision not to have a quarantine site in the municipality. The distance between Witbank and Emakhazeni is great and the road infrastructure is poor. What monitoring, and evaluation mechanisms had it put in place to ensure PPE had been provided to communities? The residents do not have access to clean drinking water, as many stayed on farms, where the farmers had closed the taps. They had to travel outside of the municipality to receive water. What measures had it taken for farm workers to be aware of the sanitation measures required to prevent the spread of Covid-19, like in Nkangala.

The state of schools was poor and due to the blasts from the surrounding coal mines, school children need to be evacuated. What had they done to ensure that the mines protect the environment and the health of the children in the area? A sample taken in 2019 found high levels of manganese and iron in the water. As a result, people cannot drink the water and cannot use it for sanitation measures. The departments had not addressed the challenges that the communities currently face, as the mining authorities had not been held to account. He was disappointed that these matters were not included in their presentations.

In the Steve Tshwete Local Municipality, there were 11 families who had to share one toilet. This not been addressed by MDHS. If they had cared for the people, it would have dealt with the matter once it had been raised by the community. He asked what they had done to address this matter and if it had dealt with the housing backlog.

Police officers had shot a male individual outside a hospital in the Witbank area. There had also been a standoff between police and residents. He asked why this had occurred.

Dullstroom residents had not been economically empowered by the local municipality. Mine owners in the area had acted against the mining charter, which stated that that the mining right holder must implement 100% mining community development commitments, as approved in the social and labour plan. The residents have demanded better living conditions but have only been met with promises from government. For instance, the people of Sakhelwe were promised by Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to be involved in the N4 Road Project but this had not materialised. Unfulfilled promises had caused unrest in the area, with police and residents having clashed. He asked what consequence management was invoked for councillors who had allegedly called the police to shoot at residents at night.

Several of the demands submitted by the Siyabuswa residents in the Dr JS Moroka Local Municipality had not been acknowledged by officials of the municipality. The municipality had not yet completed the construction of the mall. It had not yet appointed a municipal manager and had an incomplete budget. Speed humps had not been built and there was an old municipality fleet. He asked for MCOGTA to provide answers for all of these challenges.

Mr G Mpumza (ANC) asked why the department had provided only 100 food parcels per ward. It could not be the case that there were only 100 families who required a food parcel in each ward.

How had the department calculated the food parcel transportation cost to wards as the distance had varied?

When one looked at the distribution of grants, it was clear that poverty amongst women was the characterising feature of the province. He asked what post-Covid economic plan the province had for women who are unemployed and were heads of households.

MDOE indicated that 74 schools have had challenges with hostel accommodation. He asked what plan it had to address this problem and the measures put in place to stop the vandalism of schools. Was it confident that the budget estimate it fix vandalised schools was enough?

MDHS indicated that 281 homeless people had been provided with temporary shelter. What plan did the MDHS have to provide a permanent solution for them?

He asked why the informal settlements had not been de-densified and the residents provided for in temporary areas in the meantime. What had the department done to provide affordable electricity to the poor communities?

Water and sanitation challenges had been cited in the presentation. He asked why MDHS had not budgeted for water and sanitation. Had the department not received the water tanks that had been provided by the National Department?

There had been several disruptions in schools by the residents of different communities. He asked what the underlying reasons were for communities to disrupt schools in their area.

Mr B Hadebe (ANC) said he had read an article which alleged that the provincial departments of COGTA, Health, Sports and Recreation and Social Development had been implicated in PPE irregular procurement. The report added that MDOH had spent its Covid-19 funds on branded umbrellas and backpacks, and also tablets. The Premier responded to the allegations and indicated that her Office had found some cases of this nature and would appoint a team of investigators to investigate these claims. National Treasury had released instructions on Covid-19 procurement under the emergency. Which required that each department should, after thirty days of procuring Covid-19 goods and services, report on it to Treasury.

The departments must report on the supplier, quantity and price spent on each item. If the price exceeded the Treasury price list, the department had to explain what had led to this increase. Similarly, if the department had any savings, this should be indicated. Had the provincial heads monitored these processes, they would have picked up the irregularities but they had not done what was required of them. He asked who should be held accountable for not doing what they had been mandated to do. All laws are enforceable and must be reviewed and this had not been done here. An independent investigation by SIU must be appointed, and this is a cost government will bear. This is a case of negligence on the part of the leaders of each department. Leaders such as Gauteng Health MEC, Dr Bandile Masuku, had excused themselves until the investigation was completed. He asked why their alleged officials had not done the same. In doing so, they would not have admitted to the crime, rather it was an indication that they had taken the process seriously.

He asked if they had since scrutinised and analysed all procurement and found further instances of corruption. If there were, that was an indication that they had not done their job.

He asked how many SMMEs had benefitted from the Covid-19 PPE procurement and how many were black-owned businesses. This would inform the Committee if the provincial government had tried to promote black economic empowerment.

The Chairperson said Mpumalanga seemed to be the only province that had spent its entire Covid-19 grant. 86% of the municipal grant had been spent. This was to be congratulated. However, they should provide assurance that the funds had been used for their intended purposes and that the community had benefitted.

She asked if the Provincial Disaster Management Plan (PDMP) for Health had been approved and when this had occurred. If approved, she asked for the details of what it planned to solve.

As Mpumalanga borders two countries, there is a risk of a new spread of Covid-19. What strategies had the MPG put in place to deal with illegal crossing of the borders?

Dr JS Moroka Local Municipality had faced a prolonged drought and required sustainable drought alleviation measures. What practical drought alleviation measures for 2020/21 had been put in place? Had a budget been adopted for water sustainability plans by municipalities and which of them had done so. If not, when would those municipalities do this?

Had the province developed a post-Covid economic recovery plan? If so, what role would the private sector play in this plan? As the province is a tourist attraction, could it provide assurances to a visiting tourist that it had a plan to monitor the compliance of tourist establishments.

What had MDOH considered to be its flagship achievement during the crisis and could this be carried into the future. Had it developed a plan and a budget to improve its health facilities in the future. If a plan had been developed, could it be provided to the Committee.

MDSD had moved homeless people to shelters and had served them food without a budget. Why had it not developed a budget and how did it plan to explain this unfunded mandate to the Auditor-General – as it was not their constitutional mandate.

In previous Committee meetings, it transpired that some municipalities had paid up to R10 000 for a radio slot as part of their Covid-19 communication strategy. MDOH had set aside R15 million for Covid-19 awareness programmes through communication media. Had MDOH spent all of this money? She wanted to understand if the department had received value for the money it spent on the radio slots. She asked what happened to the R5 million that had been set aside for catering in quarantine sites. How much had MPG allocated for Covid-19 expenditure and how much of it had been spent.

Mr Hoosen asked questions on behalf of Mr B Grobler (Mpumalanga MPL). He had written a letter to the MPG in April indicating that the Govan Mbeki Local Municipality’s R1.9 billion debt to Eskom had a direct effect on the communities in the municipality. Eskom had set a low demand limit and refused to lift this low demand limit because the municipality had not met its debt commitment. Due to damaged networks – transformers had blown – the residents face six hours of loadshedding. What had the MEC done to address this?

Office of the Premier absence
The Chairperson asked why the Premier or the Director General in the Office of the Premier had not been present and who had the Premier appointed in her absence.

MEC Mahlangu replied that she had been booked off by her doctor. She had appointed the "DG" of Health to lead all the departments.

The Chairperson said that she could have responded to the email sent to her by the Committee. She should have been present in the meeting as there were matters that required her attention. The Committee felt that this was disrespectful to the meeting. She asked that they inform the Premier’s Office that it was disappointed that it had not sent a senior official to the meeting. The Premier should explain the reasons for the absence of her officials to the Committee in writing.

MEC Mahlangu said that she would inform the Office of the Premier before the following day.

Mr Hadebe indicated that he had not wanted to sound insensitive, but it was unacceptable that she was not present in the meeting. Premiers of other provinces, who had been infected with Covid-19 had been able to run their offices virtually, have set a precedent. All that was required was to connect virtually to engage with the Committee. Her absence could be viewed as evading accountability.

The Chairperson said she had initially preferred not to address the matter but with the absence of the Director General from the Office of the Premier, she had to address it. Although the apology had been provided to the Committee the previous day. Even delegation leader had not known the whereabouts of the Director General. It would have been better had the Premier asked for a postponement of the meeting, as these matters are important.

Health response
Human Settlements MEC Mahlangu asked that the HODs of each department respond and the MECs would follow.

Health Head of Department, Dr Savera Mohangi, answered that the department had contracted 47 suppliers to provide it with PPE. The department had not spent money on the rental vehicles. It had appointed a service provider in 2018 who distributed the PPE to all of the department’s health facilities – no extra fee was paid to the service provider. 

The Auditor General’s draft audit report of 31 July indicated that there were no irregularities with MDOH PPE procurement. The internal audit is set to look into fraud allegations. The prices for the branded umbrellas, backpacks and tablets were provided. The branded backpacks were procured at R154 (including VAT) and were provided to health workers to carry their equipment during the community testing drive. Branded umbrellas were procured at R115 each and were intended to protect community healthcare workers from the sun. Both items were branded to indicate that they were officials of the department. Tablets were procured at R3960 each to consolidate testing information. These were branded because people had pretended to be from the department and stolen from people. National DOH had donated 2000 sim cards received from Vodacom.

The SIU had requested information from MDOH and this was provided. Once the SIU releases its findings, the department would share these with the Committee.  MDOH had complied with Treasury’s regulations on the procurement of PPE.

It has drafted plans on how it intends to deal with a second Covid-19 surge and would provide them to the Committee.  

She confirmed the shooting at Witbank Hospital did occur, and it caused community unrest. After the shooting, the department activated the hospital’s CCTV cameras, increased security personnel, and revamped both the gates and the fence. Hospital parking rules were changed and people are expected to park outside. Turnstiles were developed to scan visitors.

The Chairperson asked for clarity on the price of each tablet and how many it had purchased. The department’s document states R5385 yet the department mentioned R3960.

Dr Mohangi said that the cost provided in the document, indicated the cost for four months. Each tablet cost the department R499 per month. They were contracted to pay that amount for 12 months and then the tablets would belong to the department.  

Ms Mkhaliphi asked what the R3960 price referred to.

Dr Mohangi explained that it formed part of the data and other packages.

The Chairperson asked if the sim cards had cost R2000.

Dr Mohangi explained that because DOH donated cell phones which included 2000 sim cards, the department decided to link the data contracts with the tablet contracts, so the total expenditure included four months of expenditure, not only one month.

The Chairperson asked what the correct figure for the price of each tablet was.

Dr Mohangi explained that 320 tablets were procured from National Department’s contract with Vodacom, which included data. The department paid R79 a month for the data contracts. 

The Chairperson commented that the Committee had reservations on whether the department had told the truth, given the discrepancy.

Dr Mohangi responded that MDOH had started the construction of the Mapulaneng Hospital. Phase 1 and 2 would cost the department R235 million, which included fences, bulk services, access roads to the new buildings palisades. Contractors have been appointed by the department.

The department had recently piloted a queue management system at Themba Hospital that successfully improved waiting times. It intended to implement this system at the Vrede Clinic.

The department had procured a scanner for the Themba Hospital and the machine had not been operational because the full-time radiologist had resigned. A new radiologist was appointed and the machine has been in full use.

Dr Mohangi explained that it did not use a voiceover artist for its Covid-19 radio jingle. Instead, the MEC’s voice recordings were played on the radio stations. 

No quarantine site was built in Belfast due to staff shortages.  To maximise its staff complement, MDOH decided to designate certain areas for quarantine such as Witbank. 

MDOH ensured that PPE was transported to all the clinics and hospitals in the province. She confirmed that this included the clinics in the Emakhazeni Local Municipality.

To ensure accountability, MDOH reported to the Provincial Treasury every Wednesday on its procurement. It had negotiated lower prices with service providers for PPE. It estimated that it had saved R331 million by doing so.

MDOH viewed its renovation of the Barberton and Tonga Hospitals as part of its achievements. It was able to build a new eye ward and increase the ICU capacity which had removed reliance on Gauteng hospitals. It was also pleased with the results of the Siyayinqoba Sisonke Mobile App. The department had allocated R15 million for its awareness campaign. It had set aside R5 million for catering services that would provide food to the patients in quarantine sites. Groceries were provided as well.

Originally the National DOH indicated that it would cover the costs for the Cuban doctors, but it had reversed this pledge and directed provincial departments to cover the costs. The outstanding questions would be answered in writing.

Mpumalanga Health MEC, Ms Sasekani Manzini, welcomed the input from the Members. This is taken seriously to improve the department’s efforts to provide adequate healthcare to the people of the province.

Corruption related to PPE procurement had been a challenge for all government departments, not only MDOH. The delivery of PPE was being monitored by the department, with the assistance of the unions. At the beginning of the pandemic, the department had made it mandatory that health workers use PPE when on duty. Whilst it had taken the safety of healthcare workers seriously, the department admitted that it had had PPE shortages.

The first cases that were identified in the province were from tourists and the department responded by classifying any area with 20 cases or more as hotspots. As a result, it was able to target and isolate the spread quickly. It attributed its 92% recovery rate to both these actions, and the efforts of the healthcare workers.

The PCC recommended the ward-based model as it believed that it would ensure that the key stakeholders in communities could be involved. When the first death was recorded in the province, the department launched the clinic-based model. Through this, it was able to provide medication to sickly patients, and those who are over the age of 65 were encouraged to stay at home.

MDOH is working with the province’s municipalities to provide safety measures at hospitals to prevent another shooting incident from occurring.

MDOH had provided 17 ambulances to Belfast and planned to provide another 64 this financial year. The private sector had assisted with the donation of ambulances.

The details of all the province’s PPE procurement was published by the Provincial Treasury and where suspicious transactions occurred, these had been flagged. The SIU is currently investigating MDOH for alleged irregular PPE procurement. If there have been irregularities, those responsible should be held accountable, as that money could have been on the province’s citizens. The purchase of the umbrellas has been shrouded in controversy because the department had been late in reporting these purchases and had not explained why it had bought them. To ensure that there were no procurement irregularities, MDOH had monitored purchases and if it had found culprits, it would ensure that they faced disciplinary charges.

Education response
Mpumalanga Education MEC, Mr Bonakele Majuba, replied that MDOE had been attending to the sanitation in schools and had applied both short-term and long-term measures to the problem. As there had been a delay in dealing with these problems, it had provided mobile toilets to the schools, whilst the toilets were being fixed. It also had requested that pit latrine toilets be cleaned using chemicals – in the short term.

MDOE had initiated a process of shifting the affected school from its current location next to a mine and it had committed to providing water to the school.

To address the problem of overcrowding in hostels, MDOE had implemented a process of alternating learners, so that they each stayed at their hostels on alternate weeks.

Proper assessments of damaged school infrastructure had been conducted and funds had been allocated for the refurbishment. MDOE was confident that this amount would be sufficient to refurbish the infrastructure.

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) through Rand Water had delivered water tanks to the province but criminals had stolen some tanks. This had created a shortage of water and tanks, but since then Old Mutual had donated additional tanks to remedy the shortage of tanks. It still had water shortages.

Some schools were disrupted by community members because these individuals had felt entitled to PPE procurement contracts even though they had not applied or did not qualify.

Social Development response
Mpumalanga Social Development HOD, Ms Mojapelo, replied that the 100 food parcels distributed per ward had only been applicable to the 40 000 food parcels provided by DOA through the government nutrition programme. This process did not apply to food parcels distributed by the Community Nutrition Development Centres (CNDC) and SASSA. Instead, data kept by MDSD during the screening process was used to identify the needy.

The amount of R805.50 per food parcel was set by the Pricing Committee, which had been set up to price food parcels received from DOA. This amount also included transportation costs. Previously, the department used to transport food from the food bank to the different districts, and from districts to sub-districts. However, in this instance it had partnered with the Department of Public Works (DPW) to transport food parcels to MDSD officials in the districts, who then provided them to the wards. This process had only applied to the food parcels provided by DOA. With food parcels related to Social Relief of Distress, they had been priced at R900 each, and this amount also included transportation costs.

MDSD had held discussions with the Department of Economic Development, DOA and other stakeholders to formulate an economic plan to address the high level of unemployment amongst women in the province. This plan would ensure that post Covid-19, women would be empowered and would no longer be dependent on social relief. Once the plan had been developed, it would report to the Provincial Command Council and ultimately the Executive Council.

The department admitted that it did not have offices stationed in the deep rural areas. This was mostly due to budgetary constraints, which had been raised with both Provincial and National Treasury. MDSD would continue engaging with Treasury and would also engage with DPW. It expressed hope that it would receive additional funding to set up offices.

Ms Mojapelo replied about corruption allegations. A management fee had been charged by a centre which had not been originally designated by MDSD for Covid-19 assistance. Originally the centre had been established to deal with substance abuse. A three-year contract was signed with the centre to provide catering services but the service provider who had been appointed by the district office to assist with the homeless wrongly used this contract to provide other services. The department should have had a separate contract with the service provider to provide other services besides catering. To deal with this, MDSD engaged with service provider to ensure that proper invoices are issued that include the management fee, as this had not been included originally.

Procurement prices were inflated because the procurement process had been decentralised to the districts. Once the department had picked up on the inflated prices in districts, it engaged with both the service providers and the districts. During the engagements it became clear that the prices used by the service providers had been set before Treasury’s guidelines were provided to departments. After the engagements, the prices were lowered by the various service providers.  

Mpumalanga Social Development MEC, Ms Thandi Shongwe, remarked that more men were beneficiaries of the Social Relief Distress (SRD) grant because most of the women were already receiving other grants. For those whose grant application has been declined, MDSD has continued to appeal to them to appeal the outcome.

The PCC had decided that since Mpumalanga had 400 wards, the province would distribute 100 food parcels per ward (of the DOA donations). This would stretch the 40 000 provided.

Through the monitoring of Covid-19 expenditure, MDSD was able to flag irregular expenditure in one of the centres that provided catering. Most of the PPE was purchased at the district level and the food distributions happened at the sub-district level. After picking up on the inflated PPE purchases in the districts, the Acting Head of Department (HOD) informed the district managers and the service providers to stick to the directions given by National Treasury.

She assured the Committee that MDSD would attend to the lack of offices in rural areas.

Cooperative Governance response
Mpumalanga Cooperative Governance HOD, Mr Sam Ngubane, replied that the AG had produced a letter based on its audit that showed that Lekwa Municipality had received a clean audit and no wrongdoing had occurred. MCOGTA was the only department that had not received a Covid-19 grant from Treasury.

MCOGTA had submitted to the SIU that it would welcome an investigation into the alleged PPE procurement corruption. It had submitted the information and had complied with Treasury Regulations. It did not believe that the SIU would come to a different determination. 

On the poor toilet infrastructure in the Steve Tshwete Local Municipality, the department agreed that this remained a challenge. However, with the assistance of the municipality, it had implemented interventions that would ensure that there are installations of sewers and pump stations – and wastewater upgrades. The toilets would be converted from biological to water-borne toilets. With the help of MDHS, residents living in the informal settlements had been moved to different housing locations.

Through the Local Economic Development (LED) forums, MCOGTA had interacted with the districts as it believes that through the District Model it would better understand the challenges that districts faced – and the solutions required. Some of the challenges highlighted in the forums were, inflated PPE procurement prices and irregular appointment of service providers. Due to the recent success of engagements in the LED forums, MPG implemented a strategy to permanently resuscitate the LED forums in the province. This would ensure economies of scales within districts. MCOGTA hoped that involving the districts would have a larger impact than it would at the local municipal level.

The department had already noted progress with this process – with the LED agencies that are being established in the districts – and would provide a progress report to the Committee. 

A the Provincial Disaster Management Plan (PDMP) has been in place for the past five years and it had expired. With the assistance of the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), the department has worked on drawing up a new plan. MCOGTA found that some municipalities still do not have master plans and for those that do, they had faced challenges in plan implementation. A written report on these two developments would be provided to the Committee.

All provincial departments had been ordered by the PCC to have a disaster management plan in place. MCOGTA had one in place and had forwarded it to the Committee. The plan would ensure that containment and recovery measures would be implemented.

MCOGTA had monitored the Integrated Development Plans (IDP) of municipalities. This was to ensure the IDP had (1) accommodated containment measures for a possible second wave; (2) adequately accommodated land-use management schemes and preventative measures for land invasion; (3) included gender-based violence strategies; (4) allocated sites for new graveyards to prevent a shortage of graves if there was not enough capacity in a second wave.

The provincial government did previously respond to Mr Grobler’s questions, but if he had not received adequate responses, he could address them in the Provincial Assembly the following day.

There have been discussions between MCOGTA, the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Provincial Treasury and Eskom on the R2.1 billion debt owed by Govan Mbeki Local Municipality. Eskom requested that R77 million be paid upfront to install a mobile transformer that would increase the supply of the Notified Maximum Demand (NMD). The equitable share of the municipality was withheld by Treasury as there was no audit outcome – due to the late submission of financial statements. Once all the conditions had been met, National Treasury indicated that the municipality’s equitable share would be released on 3 September 2020. It was agreed that the money should be provided to the municipality’s biggest creditors (Rand Water and Eskom) to ensure that basic services could continue to be supplied to the communities.

Mpumalanga Cooperative Governance MEC, Mr Mandla Msibi, responded that there is a joint committee which included the Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) attending to border control. To prevent illegal crossing of borders from eSwatini and Mozambique, the provincial government had implemented road patrols.

As radio stations charge for interviews done after 10am, MCOGTA decided to attend interviews at 6am to avoid paying for its interviews.

To complement the food parcels supplied by MDSD, the PCC approved a budget that would allow for the distribution of the 40 000 food parcel donations from the DOA. The 100 food parcels provided per ward, were distributed through the Community Work Programme (CWP) – as it is funded by MCOGTA.

Mr Msibi said MCOGTA committed to providing a follow up on all questions that were not related to the Covid-19 response.

After looking at the IDP budget of each municipality, MCOGTA had highlighted the gaps found and notified them that they had to follow their constitutional mandate to provide basic infrastructure.

To address the water challenges in Dr JS Moroka Municipality, the MPG invested in the construction of the Mkhondo dam. This is viewed as a long-term measure to address water insecurity but in the interim, water tanks have been provided to the municipality.

A forensic investigation was instituted in the Govan Mbeki Local Municipality as the internal controls system of the municipality had completely collapsed. A Section 139(1)(b) intervention has been invoked to place the municipality under administration. The department is awaiting concurrence from the Minister on the implementation of a Section 139(1)(c) intervention in the Lekwa Local Municipality.

Human Settlements response
Mpumalanga Human Settlements MEC, Ms Mahlangu, responded that the post Covid-19 economic landscape would mirror a post-war economic landscape. National Treasury projected a 7% decline to the national GDP, and it has been projected that the provincial economy would decline by 5-7%. Sectors projected to be severely affected are construction, transport, communication and trade (including tourism). 110 000 jobs are predicted to be lost, and 50% would be in tourism, mining and petrochemical industries. To stimulate economic recovery, MPG has formulated a three-pronged strategy, that was premised on: growth of the agricultural industry, facilitation of large-scale manufacturing and growth of mining operations. The MPG saw each as key to the stimulation of the provincial economy. Investment into the Nkomazi Special Economic Zone and the Mpumalanga fresh produce market in Mbombela formed part of the efforts to grow secondary production, logistics and agro-processing in the province. More investment would be placed in the agriculture sector, to create more employment.

Rather than providing temporary residential units, MDHS instead decided to intensify the programme of upgrading informal settlements. It planned to permanently remove shacks.

She confirmed that there was a SIU investigation in the MDOH, and this would look at the discrepancies related to Covid-19 expenditure. The Premier also appointed an independent investigation team that would look at Covid-19 expenditure in the province’s departments.

She asked that the province be given an opportunity to prepare a written report on mining issues.

It was agreed that this report be sent to the Committee by 2 September.

Further questions
Mr Hadebe asked for clarity on the true version of events on procurement prices, as the DG indicated they were market related but the MEC said they had been inflated. If there had been no cases of inflated prices, why would the Premier have appointed an independent investigation. If it were appointed for no reason, that would amount to irregular expenditure. What would be the point of appointing an independent investigation if there were no cases of price mark ups?

Mr Ceza said that the distance between the Emakhazeni Local Municipality and Witbank is 93km. Why transport people with comorbidities to a distant place? Had it not considered the distance and poor state of roads in the area. It must have been ill-informed on the dynamics of the area.

The Chairperson said that the MCOGTA had not provided its PDMP, as prescribed by Section 38 of the Disaster Management Act. She asked if it had its PDMP in order and if it had a plan to monitor the compliance of tourist facilities. It had not provided an answer on what it saw as its flagship programme during the crisis.

She said the Office of the Premier had not provided detail on the MPG’s economic recovery plan, particularly the role of the private sector. She asked if the municipalities had included their economic recovery plans in their adopted IDPs.

Cooperative Governance MEC Msibi indicated that MCOGTA did have a disaster management plan in place. The province also had three districts which contained disaster management centres.

The Chairperson clarified that the disaster management centres were required by Section 39 of the Disaster Management Act and not Section 38.

MEC Msibi agreed. The department had worked with the Enhlanzeni disaster centre and MDHS to assist the Belfast area during the 2016 tornado.

MEC Msibi indicated that not all municipalities had approved their IDPs and for those that did, many did not contain economic recovery plans. As a result, the department decided to implement Section 32 of the Municipal Systems Act to ensure that all municipalities approved their IDPs and included economic recovery plans – as directed by the President. The department is awaiting reports from municipalities on when their IDPs would be consolidated. Once it had received them, it would provide them to the Committee.

Health MEC Manzini replied that Provincial Treasury had provided a report on irregular Covid-19 expenditure to the Premier. Hence the Premier called for an independent investigation of MDOH. This would afford the province an opportunity to state their case.

Transport had been provided to sickly patients from Emakhazeni to Witbank by the department. It found this to be reasonable, as the patients would only be transported once to the quarantine site, and once back to their homes. Due to budgetary constraints and staff shortages, the department designated only certain areas to be used as quarantine sites. This allowed it to provide more human resources to each facility than if it had designated more areas to be used as quarantine sites. Even with the poor road infrastructure, the department continued to collect and transport patients who lived in rural areas to quarantine sites. With the assistance of the Department of Public Works (DPW), municipalities have attempted to provide road maintenance.

MDOH considered the ICU extension in the Rob Ferreira Hospital and the Witbank Hospital and the renovations of the Tonga and Bethal hospitals as their legacy projects. It was also pleased with the roll-out of the clinic-based model, as it ensured that primary healthcare was intensified and that communities were aware of their healthcare facilities. It believed that this initiative would assist in monitoring patients in the future. The department had worked with the health faculties of the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) and the University of Pretoria (TUKS) on all several of its initiatives – as there is no health faculty in the University of Mpumalanga. An Oncology unit is scheduled to be developed and the department would receive assistance from DOH.

Instead of using other facilities, such as a sports stadium, to provide health care for Covid-19 patients, the department invested in its existing healthcare infrastructure. This would ensure that the facilities could be equipped to provide adequate healthcare to communities in the future.

With the assistance of SAPS and the Mpumalanga Department of Economic Development, MDOH had been and will continue monitoring tourist facilities to ensure regulations are enforced. The department had already monitored malls and restaurants.   

Human Settlements MEC Mahlangu said that the department would wait for the outcomes of the investigations before it commented on the allegations levelled against the MDOH. She indicated that questions not answered will provided in writing to the Committee.

The Chairperson indicated that the Committee would be pleased by that.

Social Development MEC Shongwe clarified that the department had received support from the national department to remove homeless people from the streets to areas of safety, without a budget. The department’s actions were in line with the regulations. The National DSD supported the department with the sourcing of blankets and food for the shelters. Halls were provided by municipalities to house people. Security had been provided to the halls, to ensure that no could sneak out of the halls during the day – as it was feared that they would contract the disease and infect other people in the halls. There had been no reports of deaths and infections in the homeless shelters. The department also worked with MDOH, to provide people who were on drugs with medication and they were placed in health facilities. A process of integrating the homeless people back with their families occurred and the department profiled their integration. But, even with the measures in place, many immediately returned to the streets when lockdown levels were lowered.

MDSD did not receive a budget for Covid-19. The Command Council instructed it to work within its means, which it did. It had spent its Quarter 1 budget and was in the process of spending the Quarter 2 budget. Food parcels were provided to cover those for which a Covid-19 grant was outstanding and they had been placed on the indigent list. All recipients were screened by the department before they had been distributed the food by department officials.

The Chairperson said that the departments should answer all outstanding questions in writing to the Committee. She asked that MDOH provide its disaster management health plan. She thanked everyone for their input.

The meeting was adjourned.