Gwen Ramokgopa. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL
Gwen Ramokgopa. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL

Gauteng health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa says her department is addressing human resources (HR) problems as it tries to turn around its finances after years of debt, moving from one financial year to the next.

Ramokgopa spoke to journalists at the Gauteng legislature ahead of delivering her R46.4bn budget address in the house. She said the department had failed to pay bonuses for the 2016-17 financial year because there was no funding for it. The reason‚ she said‚ was the department had to absorb 700 employees who had worked in two health facilities that were closed down — Life Esidimeni and Selby Park.

Angry staff members had threatened to embark on a go-slow over the non-payment of bonuses.

The department is also tackling the issue of filling critical posts. Last year alone‚ eight senior managers left the department. Ramokgopa said the department has been able to appoint a head of department‚ a chief financial officer and a head of legal services. She added that most of the money from National Treasury would go to providing healthcare, then settling old debt.

"In the past‚ the budget would be approved here [in the legislature] and divided to all units. But each unit would also carry what they owed the previous year … Before [the units] start spending [on healthcare]‚ they would pay what they owed service providers the previous year. But from this year they won’t have to that‚" she said. "This year is the first where we are turning the tide in protecting frontline services."

Ramokgopa continued: "Over the next three years‚ Treasury has given us dedicated and ring-fenced funds — R1.5bn for this year. We have prioritised paying all small-, micro, and medium-sized enterprises. Those to which we owe R10m and below‚ we will be paying in two tranches this year. There are 39 big businesses with which we have negotiated and we will be paying them over the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) period."

The units would now have to control spending and keep it within the budget. "If you don’t live within the budget, you create a problem for the next year."

The Gauteng health department has struggled with accruals for years. Ramokgopa said each year‚ debt would rise by R2bn, but in the current financial year‚ accruals dropped from R6.9bn to R6.5bn — a sign‚ she said, that the department was turning the corner.