MPs lash out at Eastern Cape Covid-19 strategy, corruption
The Eastern Cape government had a tough time convincing MPs that it had things under control in its response to Covid-19 in the province.
The province's leadership also fielded hard questions about a slew of allegations of corruption ranging from the use of a guest house owned by a politician's daughter as an isolation facility, to unexplained payments by the OR Tambo district municipality, improper procurement of sanitisers and the infamous “scooter project”.
MPs also raised questions about the poor conditions of the Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth which were highlighted by the BBC.
The Eastern Cape delegation walked into a lion's den - led by co-operative governance and traditional affairs MEC Xolile Nqatha, who a day earlier grabbed national headlines for a speech at a memorial service of a departed comrade in which he said “it was un-ANC to discipline cadres that are in Covid-19 isolation because they are stressed and that will compromise their immune systems”.
ANC MPs were uncharacteristically at the forefront of punching holes in the presentation made by the province to the National Assembly's Portfolio Committee on Co-operative Governance & Traditional Affairs, where they were appearing to talk about their Covid-19 response plan.
ANC MP Bheki Hadebe went as far as questioning the government's motto “leading development with excellence and integrity” - printed on the cover of the 88-page presentation, saying it was contrary to what was happening on the ground.
Committee chairperson Faith Muthambi (ANC) lamented the use of a guest house owned by a relative of an MEC as a government quarantine facility.
“It was also not clear why the provincial government would use this facility to house people from larger towns far away, and whether it was properly equipped to do so,” said Muthambi. .
The guest house was to be used to admit 18 Covid-19 patients, charging R500 a day or R126,000 over a 14-day period for 18 people, noted Muthambi.
She said while the provincial government closed the guest house two days after the news broke, “up to today, it's not clear whether there was any consequence management in relation to this incident”, she said as she demanded an explanation.
Muthambi said the same lodge was also in the spotlight when Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane announced a forensic investigation of improper conduct between the department of transport and the lodge to accommodate employees of the department for a period of more than a year.
She noted that it was now more than two months since Mabuyane made this announcement but there had been no update from that investigation.
Muthambi was among the MPs who asked about the R10m scooter project, referring to the scooters as “glorified wheelbarrows”.
But Eastern Cape health MEC Sindiswa Gomba stood by the project and her statements from earlier this week when she said the scooters were necessitated by “inequalities in our society”, a legacy of apartheid.
“It is a befitting statement and unfortunately I am not retracting it,” she said.
“There were separate clinics for whites, there were separate clinics for coloureds and there were separate clinics for blacks. Our own people never had clinics, they built mud clinics,” she said on Thursday.
Gomba said it was also impossible to expect that everything would be ideal within 26 years of ANC government.
She said no money had been paid for the scooters but the department was doing a post-tender assessment. A full report is awaited.
According to national health department data released overnight, the Eastern Cape has a total of 57,186 Covid-19 infections. This is 17.6% of the national total, making the province the third most affected after Gauteng (36.4%) and the Western Cape (25.6%).
Presenting to the committee on behalf of the provincial government, director-general in the premier's office Mbulelo Sogoni said the Eastern Cape had a recovery rate of 69% and its contact tracing stood at 95%.
He said 1,346 teachers were infected with Covid-19 and there were 48 deaths.
Sogoni said 93% of PPE had been delivered in the province and 98% of water tanks were delivered to schools.
Out of 508 schools, 488 received toilets, said Sogoni.
He emphasised that the Eastern Cape needed more resources to employ additional health care workers, counsellors and social workers, and acquire beds and ventilators for its fight against Covid-19.
The province said it required R4.1bn for its health strategy response and that so far, it had been allocated R2.2bn.
It's target had been to recruit 7,642 health professionals, but it had so far managed to recruit 3,459.
The risk of infection of health care workers remained high in the province. So far 2,285 had tested positive and there had been 28 deaths.