Picture: 123RF/SAMSONOVS
Picture: 123RF/SAMSONOVS

The Gauteng health department failed to spend hundreds of millions of rand set aside for equipment in the last financial year, while blowing its budget for hospitals and administration, a situation that highlights its weak financial management.

Despite improving its audit outcomes in recent years, it continues to struggle to stick to its spending plans. 

Preliminary figures for the last quarter of the 2018/2019 financial year, which ended on March 31, show the department underspent its R46.8bn budget by R631m, or 1.4%. This is worse than the preliminary outcome for 2017/2018, which saw the department underspend its R41.9bn budget by R204m, according to documents tabled in parliament in 2018.

“It’s quite disappointing. It’s fully down to [former health MEC] Gwen Ramokgopa and head of department Mkhululi Lukhele,”  the DA’s Gauteng health spokesperson, Jack Bloom, said.

“The new MEC, Bandile Masuku, is starting off with a very poor base,” Bloom said, urging him to ensure this year’s R50.8bn budget is spent effectively to provide a high-quality health service.

The latest figures are contained in documents tabled in the Gauteng legislature’s health committee on Wednesday and provided to Business Day by Bloom.

While the net underspending for 2018/2019 appears to be relatively small compared to the scale of the budget, it masks the significant under- and overspending of specific budget allocations.

The documents show the department overspent its R1.07bn administration budget by R282m (26.3%), due to medical negligence claims, and overspent its R16.8bn central hospital budget by R389.2m (2.3%) thanks to unpaid bills from the previous year and performance bonuses.

It underspent its R15.36bn district health service budget by R823m (5.4%), and failed to spend R504m (37.5%) of the R1.34bn set aside for machinery and equipment.

Emergency services failed to spend R153m (10.3%) of its R1.48bn allocation due to delays in filling vacant posts and the release of payments to fleet services, the documents show.

Gauteng health spokesperson Philani Mhlungu said the department faced mounting pressure on its budget from medico-legal claim payouts, increased inflation on medical supplies and its salary bill.

The overspending on the provincial and central hospital budgets was due to higher than anticipated salaries and the acquisition of goods and services.

It had underspent its budget allocation for medical equipment, due to delays in acquiring products from overseas.

“The department has applied for a rollover of these funds,” Mhlungu said in a written response to Business Day’s questions.