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Qedani Mahlangu's mental health budget claim shot down

30 January 2018 - 12:51 By Katharine Child
Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu appears before the Esidimeni arbitration hearings probing the deaths of at least 143 mentally ill patients.
Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu appears before the Esidimeni arbitration hearings probing the deaths of at least 143 mentally ill patients.

Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu's claim that the Life Esidimeni contract was ended to save money was dismantled on Tuesday.

Gauteng Finance MEC Barbara Creecy debunked the claim while giving evidence at the Life Esidimeni hearings‚ using documents that indicated that there was money available to look after mentally ill people.

The hearings aim to find out why 1‚700 patients were moved from Life Esidimeni homes into NGOs‚ without adequate food or nurses‚ leading to the deaths of 143 patients.

Mahlangu and at least three other officials in charge of the project testified‚ under oath‚ that the contract with Life Esidimeni was ended to save money.

Mahlangu said the Gauteng department of health was cash-strapped: "You rob Peter to pay Paul." Acting head of department Ernest Kenoshi also testified that the department owed suppliers R4-billion as of April 2017.

Creecy‚ however‚ testified that Mahlangu had been offered more money‚ in a letter she wrote to her‚ for the health department in 2014.

Creecy read the letter and said that in plain English it meant: "If we have money to give you‚ where would you like it?"

Additionally‚ Creecy testified that the Gauteng department of health budget was increased from R31.4-billion to R34.1-billion from 2014/15 to 2015/16.

Money for mental health services was not decreased each year and in 2013/14 the department of health had underspent on mental health services‚ said Creecy.

However‚ in 2014‚ Gauteng health officials told the Gauteng Premier's budget council that it wanted to end the Esidimeni contract to save money‚ even after underspending on mental health.

The council told Mahlangu if she ended the Life Esidimeni contract it could "not affect the quality of services" for patients.

Creecy also explained that from 2014‚ all government departments were instructed to save money by reducing spending in areas such as travel‚ events‚ catering‚ communication‚ entertainment and venues. This was monitored by national treasury and the auditor general.

She said for the purpose of the hearings‚ a document had been declassified over the weekend‚ showing that provincial government departments were told not to cut spending on important "core" services.

She said that every year that the Gauteng department of health overspent‚ more money was provided.

On hearing that the budget for mentally ill patients was available‚ Judge Dikgang Moseneke expressed his confusion as to why the Esidimeni contract had to be cut.

He asked why the officials all testified that money had to be saved: "What was this obsession... what was the whole mantra about to … to save what costs?"

After a pause‚ Creecy said: "I don't know‚ Justice".