No protection for whistle-blowers in Gauteng Government

Issued by Jack Bloom MPL – DA Member of the Oversight Committee on the Office of the Premier
24 May 2023 in Press Statements

Note to Editors: This speech was delivered by Jack Bloom MPL during the budget vote on the Office of the Premier in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature today.

Madam Speaker,

I have been critical before in this House of the monitoring and evaluation unit in the Premier’s Office.

A prime historical example of its failure is the Life Esidimeni tragedy, in which 144 mental health patients died, and others were abused in unsuitable NGOs.

It is significant that the Judicial Inquest into these deaths is now calling former Premier David Makhura to testify as he was implicated in evidence by former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.

There were many warning signs that the cancellation of the Esidimeni contract would be a disaster, but the Premier’s Office at that time failed to pick this up even though there were court cases, demonstrations, questions in this House, and journalistic expose, including Carte Blanche.

The contract was cancelled supposedly to save money, but seven years later, the Premier’s Office is still budgeting compensation payments to the victims. The latest total figure given by the Premier’s Office is R414.4 million.

I am raising this because officials are often blamed for the poor decisions of politicians.

We nearly had a repeat of the Esidimeni tragedy when the Department of Social Development cut R416 million in funding to Non-Profit Organisations looking after the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and needy children.

This was because of a radical shift of money to the Honourable Premier’s stated priorities of drug abuse and youth skills development.

It took about a month of public protests before the Honourable Premier reversed course and claimed it was a “misunderstanding”.

We should be grateful for this, but it was surely something that could have been easily foreseen.

The biggest failure of the Premier’s office over the years is with the Gauteng Health Department.

It should be the highest priority of the Premier’s office to fix this department and stop the constant stream of scandals that affects the treatment of sick people in our hospitals.

The former Premier appointed Dr Nomonde Nolutshungu as the head of the Gauteng Health Department in May last year. She received death threats in August, and the former Premier promised she would receive extra security and whistleblowers would also be protected.

We all know what happened to Babita Deokaran, who was murdered after exposing massive corruption at the Tembisa Hospital.

It turns out, however, that Dr Nolutshungu only got a driver but no extra security. I suspect she resigned recently because she feared for her life.

And no one else in this department is getting extra security, either.

The acting head of the department is now facing allegations of bribery by another whistleblower.

What is the purpose of the Premier’s Office if it cannot intervene effectively to clean out corruption in this department? The least that can be done is to encourage and protect whistleblowers, but this isn’t happening.

The Premier’s real priorities seem to lie elsewhere. We are one year away from elections, and suddenly the budget is increased by R143 million for what is called “brand repositioning” of the Gauteng Provincial Government.

Money is found for this, but NPOs were threatened with subsidy cuts.

The DA is not supporting this budget. The Premier’s Office is ineffective in areas where it needs to be effective, like fixing up dysfunctional departments and rooting out rampant corruption. You wouldn’t need to spend a huge amount on brand repositioning if you got this right.