In an unexpected move, Mpumalanga premier, Refilwe Mtshweni removed the MEC for health Gillion Mashego, but shortly after announcing his removal, she told journalists that, in fact Mashego will remain as MEC in the department of public works, roads and transport.
She swopped her with the MEC for public works, roads and transport, Sasekani Manzini.
Unlike her predecessor, David Mabuza, who always cited the “premier’s prerogative” to avoid explaining the rationale behind changes to his cabinet, so far, Mtshweni always explains the changes she makes in the cabinet, but her second cabinet shakeup was a damp squib which left bemused journalists to fill up the gaps.
She attributed the change to the breakdown in relations between Mashego and the trade unions, and blamed the sorry state of the provincial health system to the “legacy of the past” and absolved Mashego of any wrongdoing.
“Why not remove Mashego altogether?” “Why blame the past?” “Why not remove the HOD for health?” “Why appoint someone who has no clue of health issues?” were some of the questions that journalists posed to her.
Mtshweni moved into a defensive mode, absolving Mashego of any wrongdoing and defending her appointment of Manzini.
The premier at least admitted that there were problems in the department of health and that irrespective of Manzini’s lack of experience in the health sector, all she needed was to work with the officials and have a vision to turnaround the department.
“It is purely on the basis of you going there, understand the objectives, the strategic vision of the department and work around that and also the whole intention is for you to have a vision – how are you going to turnaround that institution so that it becomes an institution that is able to deliver to its community working with the officials that are within that department,” she said.
Thus, in the premier’s own words, the reason for Mashego’s removal was that he did not work with the officials in the department and that he lacked a vision to turnaround the department of health.
The premier’s diplomacy, however, even seemed to evade Mashego himself who was present during the entire media briefing. He was smiling and sharing jokes with some of the journalists, even though the premier had just said he lacked a vision to turnaround the department of health.
Mtshweni promised an investigation into the allegations against the health department’s HOD, Dr Severa Mohangi, but the condition was that the trade unions should provide evidence of wrongdoing.
This was despite having received a memorandum of demands following a massive march by the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union to the effect that the department has contravened the Public Finance Management Act by awarding a three-year contract for air ambulance services to a company named – Buthelezi HEMS against the objections by the head of provincial treasury, Nombedesho Nkamba, that the department can only enter a six month – month-to-month contract.
And of course, the marchers also called for the removal of the Mpumalanga pharmaceutical depot from private hands where they belive it is used as a war chest that funds that dominant political faction in the province under the leadership of deputy president David Mabuza.
Mtshweni said that she was unaware that the auditor-general once made a finding against the then head of department for health, Richard Mnisi, whom it is believed contributed to the collapse of the department of health.
In its 2012/13 financial year audit report, the auditor-general had this to say about Mnisi:
“The accounting officer did not exercise oversight responsibility regarding financial and performance reporting and compliance as well as related internal controls. Management did not implement proper record keeping in a timely manner to ensure that complete, relevant and accurate information was accessible and available to support financial and performance reporting. Uncorrected material misstatements and supporting records that could not be provided resulted in the financial statements receiving a qualified audit opinion,” reads the auditor-general report.
Within the first six months of 2013/14 financial year, the finances of the department of health were in the red, forcing the premier to remove Mnisi and appointing him in the department of Co-operative governance and traditional affairs, a department which was headed by Mtshweni herself before she was appointed as premier.
Mnisi’s salary as Superintendent-General, was higher than that of Cogta HOD.
She also claimed that she was unaware of the auditor-general’s findings against Mathews Mohlasedi, whom she promoted to the position of director-general as soon as she was appointed premier.
“You are relating to the incidents that happened in the past. Those reports that say what has transpired with Mnisi. The same applies to the matter of the acting DG (Mohlasedi). I will request those reports. Fortunately he is here with me, from here I will ask him after EXCO (meeting) to fetch the report for me so that I can see what it said,” said Mtshweni.
Like Mnisi, Mohlasedi was found by the auditor-general to have failed to prevent fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
“The accounting officer (Mohlasedi) did not take effective and appropriate steps to prevent fruitless and wasteful expenditure,” reads the AG’s report of 2010/11.
In May 2011, the Mpumalanga provincial legislature’s Select Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) recommended that action be taken against Mohlasedi after Auditor-General (AG) Terrence Nombembe revealed that Mohlasedi had failed to report the R4,2 million wasteful expenditure incurred in the 2009/2010 financial year.
Then MEC for public works and transport, Dikeledi Mahlangu, defied the Scopa recommendations and she kept Mohlasedi in the public service.
Under Mohlasedi, the department of public works, roads and transport incurred irregular expenditure of R350 million.
Mtshweni failed to respond to a question whether she got the instruction from former Mpumalanga premier, who is now the deputy president of the country, David Mabuza, to return Mashego to the department of public works, roads and transport.
Mabuza had appointed Mashego as MEC for the same department when he was still premier of the province.