• Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka said the procurement of motorbikes with a side-car ambulance was improper.
  • The Public Protector said officials involved in supply chain management processes have to attend a workshop on the relevant legislation.
  • Claims of improper conduct against the Eastern Cape’s MEC for transport were found to be unsubstantiated.

Procurement processes followed by the Eastern Cape provincial health department for the much-maligned R10 million medical scooter project was improper and in contravention of applicable legal prescripts, an investigation by the Public Protector has found.

Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka on Wednesday said its own initiative investigation into allegations of improper conduct and maladministration in connection with the procurement of “motorbikes with a side-car ambulance or clinic”, dubbed scooter ambulances, found the department had contravened or had not observed sections of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), the Treasury Regulations, National Treasury Instructions and the provincial Supply Chain Management Policy in the process of the procurement. 

Fabkomp, a King William’s Town company, was awarded the contract.

In September, the Special Investigating Unit obtained an order interdicting the provincial health department from going ahead with the project, based on allegations of financial irregularities.

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Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and former health MEC Sindiswa Gomba unveiled six scooters in June last year. The scooters were fitted with a first aid kit and oxygen.

At the launch, Gomba announced that the department had acquired the scooters to ferry patients from far-flung remote rural areas to clinics and hospitals.

Fabkomp owner Brian Harmse, at the time, said the scooters were an answer to challenges faced by villagers who had to carry the sick in wheelbarrows due to the challenging terrain.

Mkhize, who initially praised the initiative, later told Parliament that it did not meet the basic criteria for “patient transport as an ambulance”.

To remedy what it called maladministration and improper conduct, Gcaleka said the acting head of the department must take the appropriate steps in respect of disciplinary action against the officials who were “involved in and responsible for the non-compliance with the provisions of the Supply Chain Management Policy and Treasury Regulations pertaining to the procurement of the scooter/ambulance or clinics”.

The Scooter Project was launched in the Eastern Cape on Friday.

This has to be done within 90 days. 

Managers

Gcaleka said the acting head must also ensure that all the officials involved in supply chain management processes and senior managers of the department attend a workshop on the relevant legislation and other legal and policy prescripts and instructions of the National and Provincial Treasuries regulating the procurement of goods and services within the same period.

The MEC for health must further oversee to ensure that appropriate steps are taken in respect of disciplinary action in accordance with the Public Finance Management Act and applicable departmental policies against any decision maker(s) “regardless of position across all the ranks of seniority that were involved in and responsible for the non-compliance”.

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The Public Protector also found that the supply chain management process followed by the provincial health and/or public works and infrastructure departments in the identification and procurement of accommodation to quarantine Covid-19 patients was in “contravention of applicable laws and legal prescripts regulating procurement”.

Gcaleka said claims of improper conduct and maladministration by the Eastern Cape MEC for transport, safety and liaison Weziwe Tikana-Gxotiwe and the two departments, relating to the procurement of goods and services, were investigated.

Tikana-Gxotiwe was accused of being improperly involved with Ukhanyo Travels and Events, Sitha Events, Mioca Lodge, owned by her daughter, and supply chain management company Vaxobyte, owned by her husband, as well as influencing the awarding of tenders to them.

The allegations were found to not be substantiated.

A complaint was lodged in May last year by an anonymous member of the EFF in the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature that it investigate the procurement of accommodation to quarantine Covid-19 patients at Mioca Lodge and the procurement of goods and services by the provincial department of transport, safety and liaison from Sitha Events.

The MEC was accused of being improperly involved or influencing the awarding of business to Sitha Events to provide tents and catering during stakeholder engagement meetings.

According to the report, it was alleged that the process followed to procure accommodation at Mioca Lodge was flawed and unlawful and that provincial government spent public funds to render some renovations at Mioca Lodge in preparation for it to be a quarantine site.

“The complainant requested that we investigate the relationship between the MEC, Mioca Lodge and Ukhanyo Travels and whether contracts were awarded to these entities due to the MEC’s influence and relationship with them,” she said.

Two months later, further complaints were received from Dr Lwazi Ncapayi of Cala University Students Association and UDM MP Bantu Holomisa in connection with the procurement of accommodation at Mioca Lodge.

“In addition to the request for investigation … it was alleged that, on 15 April 2020, the provincial public works department, the provincial health department and the provincial executive council took a decision to accommodate about 18 Covid-19 patients at Mioca Lodge in the Cala Reserve area, owned by the daughter of the MEC, which resulted in a conflict of interest on the MEC’s part as she was alleged to be the true owner of Mioca Lodge and has substantial interests in it,” Gcaleka said.

“We found that the MEC was not improperly involved with Ukhanyo Travel and Events, Sitha Events, Mioca Lodge and Vaxobyte and did not influence the awarding of tender(s) to them by provincial government departments.”

Gcaleka said the MEC declared her relationship with Mioca Lodge, and her husband declared his relationship with the MEC in respect of the bid submitted by Vaxobyte. 

The two departments’ supply chain management process was, however, in contravention of applicable laws and legal prescripts regulating procurement when it identified and procured accommodation from Mioca Lodge.

“To remedy this improper conduct and maladministration, the provincial health HOD must take appropriate steps in respect of disciplinary action against the Director for the Chris Hani District of the department, [Nomeko] Kizza, in connection with her role in the irregular procurement of accommodation for Covid-19 patients and the fruitless and wasteful expenditure incurred as a result thereof,” Gcaleka said. “This must take place within 60 days from the date of this report.”

Kizza, the report reads, “improperly requested the Eastern Cape Department of Public Works to procure accommodation at Mioca Lodge to quarantine Covid-19 patients, without approval or the delegated authority by the head of the [provincial health department] to do so”.

The HOD was also to take “appropriate steps to recover the fruitless and wasteful expenditure incurred” in transporting the Covid-19 patients to and from Mioca Lodge, while the provincial Public Works HOD was to take disciplinary action against the department’s regional director for the Chris Hani region, Zamile Kalako, for his role in the irregular procurement by the department of accommodation at Mioca Lodge.

According to the report, Kalako “improperly accepted Kizza’s request to procure accommodation at Mioca Lodge, knowing that the identification of quarantine facilities was the function of the Department of Public Works and that Mioca Lodge was not on the list of approved quarantine facilities, in terms of the regulations made under the Disaster Management Act”.

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