MEC for Health in KwaZulu-Natal Sibongiseni Dlomo. Picture: THULI DLAMINI/SOWETAN
MEC for Health in KwaZulu-Natal Sibongiseni Dlomo. Picture: THULI DLAMINI/SOWETAN

As the KwaZulu-Natal oncology crisis continues‚ provincial health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo has sought to deflect blame onto the company from which the oncology machines were bought.

On Thursday‚ he recounted how he globetrotted in his bid to have the firm that sold the department the machines, take responsibility for maintenance. Dhlomo said the department tried everything to get the machines up and running after Tecmed‚ the company from which it bought the equipment in 2008‚ reneged on its maintenance obligations.

Dhlomo was trying to justify the lack of maintenance of the equipment machines and the ensuing oncology crisis that followed in its wake.

"It all started with the apparent fraud by Tecmed. In 2008‚ the department of health bought machines with maintenance contracts and Tecmed denied that maintenance was part of the deal. Tecmed demanded to be paid for maintenance separate from the maintenance contract that existed‚" said Dhlomo.

Briefing the KwaZulu-Natal legislature‚ Dhlomo said it was reported to the provincial treasury that they were paying double to Tecmed. Dhlomo said that the relations between the department and Tecmed were so bad that he also had to report the matter to former premier Zweli Mkhize.

"Through his advice‚ in 2013‚ I went to Switzerland to report to the mother company‚ Varian‚ the fraudulent activities of Tecmed‚" he recalled.

Dhlomo said the matter was then referred to the company’s head office‚ Varian USA. He said senior officials doing forensic investigations in the department went to California in 2014.

"We continued paying Tecmed double for maintenance and‚ after collecting extensive fraudulent actions‚ the matter was reported to the Hawks. I had several meetings with Gen Anwar Dramat [the former Hawks head] on this matter. We agreed that we had a strong case against Tecmed‚" he said.

However‚ when time lapsed‚ Dhlomo said he was advised to meet the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on several occasions.

"In our last meeting‚ the NPA made it clear that they were not going to prosecute Tecmed. With all that‚ at no stage did I ever advise the department not to service the machines. It would have to be Tecmed or any other service provider‚" he said.

Dhlomo said he did all this knowing that the procurement of services including equipment in the department was the sole responsibility of the head of department.

He admitted that the broken machines had put huge strain on the department’s personnel. He said he often received phone calls from frustrated clinicians and patients, and that the hospitals’ CEOs could no longer defend the department for not repairing or purchasing new machines.

"Head office has not efficiently dealt with this matter resulting in a build-up of backlog of patients to be treated‚ increasing low morale and increasing frustration of doctors and nurses treating patients. We do not have all the information as to why specialising doctors resigned but machines at Addington [hospital] were not serviced and the situation made specialists resign‚" he said.

He said the issue of Tecmed was cited as irregular expenditure and that the breakdown of relations with the firm meant the machines were not maintained.

In 2015, KZN Oncology Inc was appointed to service the machines after the Tecmed contract had ended. But this was in violation of the Public Finance Management Act, and it has been nullified. The department‚ Dhlomo said‚ was now dealing directly with Varian, which was assessing oncology machines at Addington Hospital in Durban.

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