Speech notes: Consideration of the Special Programmes report on visits to Mental Health facilities across the province

Honourable Madam Speaker, Honourable Premier, Honourable members of the House, officials and guests, I greet you all.

Before I proceed Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome our two new members to the house. The Honourable Andrew Whitfield is an ex MP and Mayoral Committee member from Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. He is also our Democratic Alliance Provincial Chairperson.

Nomvano Zibonda has served the Raymond Mhlaba municipality and the Ntsikana constituency with distinction as a councillor. She is one of our young lionesses who contributed substantially to our Democratic Alliance victory at Fort Hare University. These two members are the youngest in the house. I get incredibly excited when I see the calibre of young leaders in the Democratic Alliance today. It indeed gives me great hope for the future!

Madam Speaker, it gives me pleasure to debate the report on Special Programmes. I am sad to announce that Celeste Barker is taking ill health retirement and will not be returning to the House. At this juncture I wish to thank the Speaker most sincerely for her visit to Celeste at her home. We know your presence there was deeply appreciated, Madam Speaker, and we are grateful for your kind gesture.

On reading the committee report, a few repetitive statements disturbed me. I should like to highlight these:

The First is that the Head Office’s management of Mental Health care is unsatisfactory and the manner in which they communicate information to hospitals is divisive and unprofessional.

This is an appalling revelation and should send shockwaves through the province. What this says about the officials working in this department is that they have absolutely no desire to serve the people of this province, least of all the ill and vulnerable, but rather their desire is to serve themselves and milk the system.

Madam Speaker I am not a very keen quoter, but I think that most of the honourable Members will have heard this one. It comes from the Good Book and it goes like this: The best test of a nation’s righteousness is how it treats the poorest and the most vulnerable in it’s midst.

Our nation should strive to be righteous, our province should strive to be righteous –  We should all strive to be righteous!  This department is failing not only the sick and vulnerable, Madam Speaker, but also many hardworking, honest staff members and professionals, who are leaving the department to work in the private sector, due to the unprofessional behaviour displayed by the officials at the Head Office.

At the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital, the management accuse the Head Office of driving a concerted effort to undermine the Mental Health Unit, who are leading experts on Mental Health in the country.

Secondly, there is a disjuncture between the Department of Health’s Head Office and the hospitals, their management and their needs, across the province. This statement, Madam Speaker, is a further indictment on the leadership and the officialdom of the Health department.

If there is a disjuncture between the PHO and the hospitals, then communication between them has failed. If communication has failed, then functionality has failed. The department of Health has failed the mentally ill people of this province.  So effectively, the Life Esidimeni tragedy has not been avoided here. It happens on a small scale every single day.

So my question is this: Why are these officials, who clearly do not give a damn about the people they are supposed to serve, and treat medical professionals, hospital management, and patients with equal disdain, still working in the department of Health?

I think part of the answer came from the presentation made by the Financial and Fiscal Commission in their presentation yesterday. Let me elucidate:

The department of Health has the second biggest budget in the province. It is one of three departments that have an infrastructure directorate. Being a maths teacher, I did a few sums last night:

If you take the infrastructure budget of the departments of Health, Education and Transport, and add them together, you get an amount of R5,06 billion. According to the FFC, at least 76% of contractors pay an “inducement fee” to secure a contract. If applied to our province, this means that R3,85 billion of the Eastern Cape infrastructure budget is exposed to corruption.

Let us take the average bribe which is 7,5% of the contract value that somebody is putting in his, or her, pocket.  We arrive at an amount of R288 million rand. Every single year. Now let us discount the departments of Education and Transport by dividing the spoils into three.

So at the very least, infrastructure bribes linked either directly or indirectly to the department of Health, amount to in excess of R95 million a year. That’s a pretty good incentive to hang onto a job.

The other part of the answer appeared in the Sunday Times on Sunday morning. Corrupt state attorneys, unscrupulous lawyers and departmental officials collude in false cases of medical malpractice and settle them “out of court”, for millions and millions of rands. According to the Sunday Times, the biggest offender is the Eastern Cape State Attorney’s office, and the department most vulnerable to the scams is – yes – The Health Department.

It’s all about the money. Money is power. And power is privilege. But it was Dwight Eisenhower who said that “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

Rumours have abounded for years about a Mafia type group of officials operating within and across the departments that control the flow of cash, particularly around infrastructure development, and now clearly malpractice suits too. They allegedly will stop at nothing to keep the cash flowing in their direction.

This report breathes life into that rumour. Hospitals falling apart at the seams, gross understaffing, total disregard for the professionals who do the work of serving the sick, and divisive behaviour at Head Office level. These officials should care. They don’t.

You continue to neglect the people you promised to serve at your peril.  These citizens – the poor, the weak, the sick and the mentally ill, are all voters. And they are tired of being treated with disdain and disrespect. They are tired of being given shoes and bicycles before by-elections. And they are speaking out.

If the department of Health does not clean house right now, they will not have a house left to clean. The DA will not stand by silently while our health system is systemically destroyed by greed, corruption and maladministration. We will stand up and fight for the rights, and the health, of all South Africans.

The DA accepts the report and I thank you.

— Jane Cowley MPL, Shadow MEC for Health.