Suspended Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku threatened me last week with legal action if I did not retract within 24 hours my statement on the exorbitant costs of the NASREC field hospital.
I stand by the figures I gave – about R350 million spent on only 700 patients – as they were from official sources, but we need to know far more about the secret contract that was signed with the Johannesburg Expo Centre (JEC) which manages the NASREC facility.
This contract was signed in July and apparently runs from 1 August to 31 January next year. It was signed by Richard Makhumisani, the head of the Department of Infrastructure Development (DID), and Mkhululi Lukhele, the now-suspended head of the Gauteng Health Department.
DID MEC Tasneem Motara has written to the Chairperson of the Gauteng Legislature’s Health Committee in a letter dated 1 September that “The lease agreement is a confidential contractual document between the Department and the Service Provider.” She offers an arrangement to view the document at the Department’s offices but this will no doubt include confidentiality provisions as well.
It is unacceptable that this document is confidential as it deals with public money and any contracts awarded by the JEC to subcontractors should be done in a proper manner to obtain value for money. This includes contracts for security, catering, medical waste removal, furniture, back-up generators, and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC).
Premier Makhura needs to confirm or deny whether the leasing contract with JEC includes the following:
- 1000 beds paid for at a tariff of R770 a day per bed for six months, which amounts to nearly R140 million, even if these beds are not filled with patients;
- A clause that does not allow for any refund of the above amount even if the agreement is cancelled;
- An infrastructure establishment fee of about R68 million for various furniture, HVAC and backup generators.
Masuku has defended the NASREC field hospital as a measure to ensure that beds were available for all COVID-19 patients if certain projections of the epidemic came true. But it was already evident from the Western Cape and the overseas experience that the worst projections were not happening and the epidemic in Gauteng was likely to peak in July rather than August/September as Masuku originally expected.
The real question is why a contract was signed so late into the epidemic and extending into next year, which was not predicted to be necessary by any serious modeling. Last month there were only about 21 patients at the NASREC facility which shows what a waste of money it has been.
I give notice to Premier Makhura that he has 24 hours to make the NASREC contract public, otherwise the DA will institute a Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) application for this document.
Furthermore, the Auditor-General should scrutinize this contract to ensure that it is rational and legal in all respects, and the SIU should investigate whether all sub-contracts were properly awarded rather than given to connected people at rip-off prices.
Premier Makhura needs to show that the provincial government is not hiding anything and that all COVID-19 related contracts are investigated for possible corruption, including the NASREC deal.