He apologised “unreservedly” to the public for the “unfortunate and devastating saga”, and said the department would act decisively.
He added he recognised the impact that had on the image of the department, but said it was not just about that. “It has also had a devastating impact on our own capacity. As you can imagine, we are at the tail-end of this third wave, and we are looking forward to seeing how we can stabilise the health system.”
He said this took place at a time when the department was pushing the vaccination campaign, “so the last thing we really need is a distraction from that kind of situation”.
“In terms of capacity, you can imagine we are doing this in a department where you have a DG who is on suspension [who has been the driver of the vaccination programme, so he has got to be removed from that] and therefore have to have an acting DG. Then we have a deputy director-general who is also seriously implicated ... He will be out of office, and we don’t know for how long because he has got to face the allegation.
“We have about three other senior officials in the department and two on a more junior level, so all those people are going to be out of circulation. This happens at a time when we’ve already had a lot of acting senior managers. We have an acting CFO; we have had three DDGs — one of them has been seconded to North West as an administrator, and the other two left.”
Phaahla said he was concerned about how the situation would affect the government’s fight against Covid-19, the lagging vaccination programme and the morale of hardworking employees in the health system. “We are going make sure this destabilisation does not ultimately affect the capacity of the public health system to deliver services.”