Suspended Gauteng Health Department head of department (HoD) Dr Tiego Selebano has told the Life Esidimeni hearings that there was “no space” to differ with former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.
This, Selebano told the arbitration, was one of the reasons he didn’t raise his misgivings about the moving of psychiatric patients from Life Esidimeni facilities to NGOs.
About 143 patients died from hunger, malnutrition and neglect at the NGOs.
Selebano said when the marathon project head, Levy Mosenogi, raised concerns with Mahlangu, she asked him whether he worked for the government or Life Esidimeni.
“I couldn’t stop it, I didn’t stop it, I wish I did. It was difficult for me to stand up to the MEC. Fear, no. I wouldn’t be ruled by fear. I hope all HoDs know this shouldn’t happen,” Selebano told the hearings.
He continued: “There was no space to differ with her (Mahlangu) going forward, your relationship would be difficult.” He said it was tense working with Mahlangu.
He admitted it was “embarrassing and shameful” that his team allowed the project to go forward.
Selebano and other senior officials at the department ignored warnings from psychiatrists, clinicians and civil society organisations that the moves were not advisable. He couldn’t say why, but said: “I wish I could wind back the time and do things differently. The warnings were clear. If I had the foresight, I would have stopped.”
“We did things the wrong way, terribly wrong. We should have listened to other people.”
Selebano said the flouting of the law happened under his watch because he trusted his subordinates.
On the terrible conditions at NGOs where patients were moved, Selebano said he was unaware some of them were not registered and didn’t have healthcare professionals. “That is unacceptable. No one can in a good conscience defend that,” he said.
Selebano claims he was unaware that licences for NGOs were not supposed to be signed by suspended head of mental health services Dr Makgabo Manamela, but by himself, until Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba informed him.
A few months after being interviewed by Makgoba, Selebano signed duplicate licences for NGOs like Precious Angels and Buhlebenkosi Ministries without seeing their audit reports. Selebano said Manamela had advised him not to sign them.
“I didn’t see the reports. I wish I did. I know I signed these licences. In my mind, I was regularising. I was not doing anything cynical.”
At the time, he signed the licences, over 108 patients had died.
He denied that part of the reason the government targeted the Life Esidimeni group was because they were a white company. “The dominant reason was fiscal pressure.”
The hearings continue.