Contrary to previous claims by former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and senior department officials, there was sufficient funding to keep Life Esidimeni open.
This is what Gauteng Finance MEC Barbara Creecy told the Life Esidimeni Arbitration hearing in Parktown on Tuesday.
The decision to close down Life Esidimeni and relocate mentally ill patients into non-governmental organisations across the province resulted in the deaths of 144 patients.
Creecy broke down how the budget allocation for the health and education departments had consistently increased year on year, and that it was never communicated to the health department that core services needed to be cut in order to cut costs.
“The assertion was that there was massive pressure from treasury, national and provincial, to reduce expenditure on core services, is false?” retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke asked Creecy.
“Yes, justice, the pressure was on non-core services,” she replied.
Non-core services included things like credit card expenditure and venue hiring by the department.
Family members who were present at Tuesday’s hearings gasped in horror as she validated this statement.
Moseneke looked shocked, and responded simply: “We’ll come back to that. The importance of that point does not escape you either?” he asked.
“No justice,” Creecy said.
During previous testimonies given by Mahlangu, former Gauteng director of mental health Dr Makgabo Manamela, and former head of Gauteng’s health department Dr Barney Selebano, they had all claimed that the reason Life Esidimeni was shut down was a result of cost-cutting measures which were being enforced by the provincial treasury.
Earlier this month both Manamela and Selebano tendered their resignations.
It was also previously heard the non-governmental organisations received no funding from the department, but Creecy quickly cleared that up on Tuesday, after she stated that an amount of R47.5 million was transferred to them.
Precious Angels – the organisation located in Atteridgeville that had an intake of 58 patients from Life Esidimeni, of which 23 died – was given R1 million to help see to the patients.
During her testimony at the hearings last year, Ethel Ncube‚ owner of the Precious Angels said that the department had not given her any funding for the care of the patients.
“We did not get paid for three months. Most of the patients were on diapers. We would [use] seven bags of diapers in a day or two,” Ncube said in October last year.
Sixty two of the patients moved from Life Esidimeni are unaccounted for.
On Monday, the Democratic Alliance’s Gauteng health spokesperson, Jack Bloom, opened missing person’s cases for each missing patient in a bid to trace them.
Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi will be called to testify, while Gauteng Premier David Makhura took the stand this afternoon.