Test backlogs hamper fight against Covid-19 in Gauteng

I am hugely concerned by the 24 076 Covid-19 tests in Gauteng which have not been processed as this severely hampers efforts to speedily identify and curb emerging hotspots in the province.

This was the latest reported figure given by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize for 25 May, so it is likely even higher now.

As the average positivity rate has been a bit below 2% this means that more than 400 Covid-19 infected people have not been diagnosed in Gauteng because of the test backlog. Many of them are probably asymptomatic but could still pass on the infection.

The Gauteng infection figures have leapt in the past seven days from 764 active cases on 23 May to 1707 active cases on 30 May – this is an increase of 943 cases, which is an average increase of 135 cases per day.

Another worrying sign is that hospitalizations of Covid-19 patients have more than tripled in this time period from 73 to 332 patients. Gauteng has done well to keep the mortality rate at 1% with 31 deaths to date, but this may increase sharply with the new rush of hospital admittances.

The highest number of new infections between 17 and 26 May has been in Carletonville with 23 cases, followed by the Mayfair/Crosby/Jan Hofmeyr/Amalgam/ Paarlshoop area in Johannesburg with 22 cases and Ivory Park with 9 infections. Region F in Johannesburg, which includes the inner city and eastern and southern suburbs, now has 112 active cases, and Region D, which includes Soweto, has 96 active cases.

The real number of active Covid-19 cases for Gauteng is probably closer to 8 000 bearing in mind the test backlogs and the rule of thumb that there are at least three other cases for each identified case.

I have had many reports of test results that take 10 days or longer, which completely undermines the purpose of mass testing.

Gauteng needs to do about 10 000 tests a day but is presently getting the results for fewer than 5 000 tests a day.

I hope that efforts to resolve the testing backlog succeed soon as this is a fast-evolving epidemic which needs prompt interventions to curb cluster infections in particular areas.

MEC Lesufi succumbs to the DA’s pressure to withdraw guidelines on food donations and distribution by NGOs

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng welcomes the decision by the Acting Gauteng MEC for Social Development, Panyaza Lesufi to withdraw the guidelines on food donations and distribution by NGOs in the province.

In a media statement released by his department, he indicates that the withdrawal of these guidelines comes after an extensive engagement with the Premier’s Office on challenges raised by organisations who found the guidelines difficult to follow for the distribution of food to our communities. However, the department has indicated that the fact that the guidelines have been withdrawn does not stop anybody from working with the department to distribute food.

For far too long the DA has been calling on MEC Lesufi to remove this unnecessary red tape regarding food donations and distributions by NGOs as they are crippling the operations of NGOs who are assisting our people who are in desperate need of food.

These guidelines were set to monopolise all food distribution and assistance to the vulnerable, while our people in Gauteng suffer from starvation.

Should the MEC have listened to our call these guidelines would have been withdrawn without the DA having to report the department to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and having to take the matter to the High Court where the interim judgement was in favour of the DA.

If the acting MEC and his department had listened to NGOs and civil society, the DA would not have taken the legal route. This should be a lesson to government not to use their power to impose unnecessary red tape against any organisation helping to fight hunger.

This is a victory for our people who are hungry for food and solely dependent on cooked meals provided by the NGOs. Government alone cannot render this service.

The DA will continue to monitor the distribution and donations of food by the NGOs to ensure that no one prohibits them from distributing cooked meals to the hungry in this province.

DA confident about court application to restore democracy to City of Tshwane

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is confident that the outcome of its Section 18 (3) Application presented in the North Gauteng High Court today will be favourable.

The DA argued to have the recent judgment declaring the dissolution of the Tshwane Council unlawful, implemented, notwithstanding an appeal against the judgement by the African National Congress (ANC) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

The DA will not sit idle while the appeal by the ANC and EFF seeks to prolong the unlawful tenure of a deployed team of administrators in Tshwane.

Each day the administrators remain in office undermines the democratic choice that was made by the residents of Tshwane in August 2016 in favour of a DA leadership for the City Council.

The residents of Tshwane must be led by the people they elected rather than those undemocratically imposed on them.

The DA wants the Tshwane Council restored urgently particularly because decisive leadership is needed during these difficult times to help combat the spread of the Covid-19 crisis.

As it stands, councillors are left out in the cold and residents have no access to the City Council.

The administrators have made no effort to facilitate public participation in municipal processes that include the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) and Budget.

They are a law unto themselves and are only accountable to the ANC that deployed them there.

The budget for the 2020/2021 financial year which should have been released at the beginning of April this year was only released mid-May for public comment, after the DA filed legal papers highlighting the administrators failure in their legislative duties.

There is also no strategy in place on how the current unlawful administrators will engage rural communities on the budget, which could result in the lowest levels of public participation in the city’s history.

The city is facing record levels of under-collection, which is placing its financial stability at risk. With no strategy in place to correct this, the administrators are pushing the capital off a fiscal cliff.

With no oversight committees and councillors there is no method of accountability and transparency over the decisions that are taking place in the city.

These are just some of the many reasons why we are urging the court to grant the DA this Section 18(3) Application to remove these unlawful administrators and return democracy to the City of Tshwane.

The ANC has desperately tried to convince the court that there is no pressing reason for the immediate implementation of the judgement.

Their strategy is obvious for all to see.

They are hoping to delay the implementation of the judgement for as long as possible while they cling to power in the city.

The DA has slowly eroded the ANC’s influence in Tshwane since 2016 and they are terrified they will never return to govern the city.

Hence their only hope is to unlawfully dissolve the city’s council and deploy illegal administrators who they can control to govern it.

Pregnant woman denied food at Bheki Mlangeni Hospital

I am horrified at the report that a pregnant woman was not served food for three days when she was put in isolation at the Bheki Mlangeni Hospital as a suspected Covid-19 case.

Soweto resident Kgomotso Hlatshwayo was admitted to the hospital on 22 April for dizziness and fatigue due to pregnancy. She was moved to an isolation ward on 28 April after displaying some symptoms similar to those for COVID-19, but did not get food for three days as staff refused to have contact with her. Her distressed family was refused permission to bring her food during this period.

Hlatshwayo has since tested negative for Covid-19 and wants to sue the hospital for maltreatment.

This case highlights the need for clear protocols for the handling of suspected Covid-19 patients in a humane and professional manner. The rights of patients need to be respected along with strict measures to prevent the spread of the infection in hospitals.

Hlatshwayo’s ordeal is yet another example of poor management at the Bheki Mlangeni Hospital which has failed to improve despite many promises by the Gauteng Health Department. I have long called for the removal of the hospital CEO Ruth Mabyana who should now be replaced by a capable person who can meet the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gauteng Agriculture Department fails to provide training to smallholder farmers

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng is deeply concerned that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development failed to meet its set target for the training of smallholder farmers in the province.

This was revealed in the department’s fourth quarter report for the 2019/2020 financial year.

According to the report the department was supposed to provide training to 580 smallholder farmers. However, the department only managed to train 188 smallholder farmers.

The reasons cited for department not meeting this target were the delays in procurement for the training that needed to take place for smallholder farmers.

In addition, the department also failed to meet its target of providing agricultural advice to 620 smallholder producers. The department only managed to provide support to 266 smallholder producers.

Providing training and agricultural advice to smallholder farmers and smallholder producers plays an important role in empowering them with knowledge and skills to ensure food security and job creation in the province.

This department is known for not providing adequate support to smallholder producers and smallholder farmers, even though there is a budget allocated for this.

I will be tabling further questions in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature to ascertain exactly how the department intends ensuring that the targets set for this programme are met.

Gauteng Health Department fails to spend R909 million

The Gauteng Health Department failed to spend R908.5 million in the financial year that ended on 31 March 2020.

This is revealed in the Department’s Fourth Quarterly Report that was recently tabled in the Gauteng Legislature.

The biggest underspend was R1.8 billion in District Health Services which is attributed to delays in filling of vacant positions.

Emergency Medical Services failed to spend R100 million, and the underspend of R230 million by Provincial Hospital Services is attributed to delays with the creation and filling of vacant posts, and delays with the delivery of machinery and equipment.

The overall underspend would have been higher but was offset to some extent by an overspend of R505 million as a result of payments of medico legal claims and related legal fees. There were some overspends in other programmes as well which shows poor financial management.

Last year the Department underspent by R631.4 million. It is disappointing that the Department has yet again failed to spend its full budget despite the dire need in our hospitals and clinics.

Continuing poor management will hinder the provision of quality health services, especially with the current huge challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Millions spent on paying GPG employees’ overtime

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng is extremely concerned about the exorbitant amount of money spent on overtime by the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) over the last five years.

This was revealed to me by the MECs for Finance and e-Government; Infrastructure Development and Property Management; Education; Economic Development and Agriculture and Rural Development; Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation and Social Development in a written reply to my questions tabled in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (GPL).

The departments have spent the following amount on overtime over the last five financial years:

  • Infrastructure Development and Property Management- R100 321 255.00
  • Finance and e-Government – R1 522 100.00
  • Education- R75 500 000.00
  • Economic Development and Agriculture and Rural Development- R16 460 430.57
  • Social Development – R3 028 823. 34
  • Roads and Transport- R9 218 062, 55

If the trend over the last five years regarding the amount of money paid in overtime continues, it means the wage bill will not be kept at 60%.

This is concerning as the economy is not doing well and in order for this to improve a directive was given by the National Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni to keep the wage bill at 60%.

Where departments need to have Annual Performance Plans (APP) in place it does not appear that they are adhering to these plans. This points to poor planning by the Gauteng Provincial Government.

The only way this can be mitigated is by ensuring that each and every department submits an APP that details exactly how they will be cutting down on overtime in the new financial year.

Failure to do so will lead to a wage bill that is far higher than 60%.

The DA will be closely monitoring each department to ensure that their APPs are submitted for the 2020/2021 financial year and to determine what plans have been put in place to curb overtime spend.

Emfuleni has spent over R669 million on labour disputes with its employees

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is shocked to learn that the ANC-led Emfuleni Local Municipality has spent over R669 million on labour disputes with its employees.

This was revealed by the Gauteng MEC for COGTA, Lebogang Maile in a written reply to the DA’s questions tabled in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (GPL).

According to MEC Maile, Emfuleni has spent approximately R500 000 000 on legal fees defending labour dispute cases since 2013 and they have paid R169 502 688,32 to employees for cases that they have lost.

In total, the municipality has paid over R669 million for legal fees and employee compensation.

There are 25 cases that have been referred to the Bargaining Council, 14 cases that have been referred to the Labour Court and three disputes that have been referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

Furthermore, there are 18 awards in favour of employees of which two have Labour Court judgements; only 12 cases were won by the municipality.

It is also worrying that the employees are winning labour dispute cases and large sums of money are being paid by a municipality that is facing serious cash flow problems.

The DA calls on MEC Maile to investigate the reasons why this municipality is having continuous labour issues with its employees and to ascertain whether the municipality is following proper labour legislation and Code of Conduct with regards to its employees.

We will also table follow-up questions in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (GPL) to ascertain what measures are being put in place to curb labour disputes in this municipality.

Mogale City’s Department of Utilities Management on strike over salary dispute and lack of PPEs

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng has been reliably informed that the Mogale City’s Department of Utilities Management employees are currently on strike. They have barricaded the roads and are burning tyres along Tudor road next to their offices over salary disputes and the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The department’s employees have been on a go-slow since last week Friday.

They claim that they have not yet been paid for the hours that they have worked during the national lockdown.

The employees also claim that they do not have proper PPE to ensure their safety during this critical period. They have vowed not to return to work until their demands are met.

Electrical faults reported by residents were not attended to and residents were told by the employees that they are on a go slow and that they will be attended to eventually.

Many wards across the City had service delivery interruptions over the weekend particularly in wards 22, 18, 37 and 38. The refuse has not been collected in some of the wards.

It is the responsibility of this municipality to ensure the safety of its workers by providing them with PPE as gazetted in the Disaster Management Act.

We will not allow this municipality to put the lives of the workers at risk by not safeguarding employees against the spread of this deadly coronavirus.

For far too long, the DA has been against the ANC-led Mogale City’s adoption of a top layer organogram which has a big wage gap between the employees in the lower and upper levels. This top layer organogram gives the executive management inflated packages while the bulk of the workforce which does the majority of the work earns very little.

The DA calls on the Gauteng Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) MEC, Lebogang Maile to intervene as a matter of urgency to ensure that this wage dispute is resolved, employees are provided with proper PPE and that service delivery resumes as a matter of urgency.

41 Assaults on hospital staff in Gauteng last year

Forty-one health staff in Gauteng public hospitals were assaulted last year, the vast majority by psychiatric patients.

This is revealed by Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.

According to Masuku “in almost all the cases reported the perpetrator was a patient and the majority were psychiatric patients …The main reason identified is that the patients are most times confused and do not know what exactly they are doing … 95% of assaults are by patients with a Psychiatric Diagnosis.”

George Mukhari Hospital had the most assaults – there were 10 attacks, including one where three security guards were bitten by a psychiatric patient.

The Bheki Mlangeni Hospital in Soweto had 8 attacks, 6 of which were perpetrated by psychiatric patients. It is very disappointing that this hospital has still not taken effective security measures as a psychiatric patient allegedly murdered another patient there recently.

Other health facilities that suffered attacks on staff include the following:

Tembisa Hospital – 5 injuries reported

Mamelodi Hospital – 5 injuries reported

Leratong Hospital – 1 human bite injury

Bertha Gxowa – 1 assault reported

Johannesburg clinics – 3 assaults recorded

It is really shameful that following the Life Esidimeni tragedy the facilities for psychiatric patients in our hospitals are still inadequate to prevent harm both to themselves and to others.