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Health risks losing vital equipment

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THE NORTHERN Cape Department of Health is at risk of forfeiting life-saving equipment after it flouted a court order to pay an instalment of R4.5 million to a former service provider, Bestor CC.

An urgent warrant of execution for the attachment of immovable property was served on the department’s CFO and the MECs for Health and Finance earlier this month.

The warrant comes after the department lapsed on its monthly payment to Bestor CC, which was due on or before April 30 this year. The next instalment is due on or before May 31.

The DA’s provincial spokesman for Health, Isak Fritz, explained that the department was indebted to Bestor CC for more than R40 million.

“The former service provider for fax and copy machines has already won two cases against the department for damages and costs due to the improper termination of a maintenance contract, as well as for failing to return 148 fax and copier machines to the company,” Fritz said.

“The court date for Bestor CC’s third and biggest case against the department, which sees them suing for R210 million for loss of income, has yet to be set.”

According to Fritz, this is the third time that it has been necessary for the Sheriff of the Court to attach assets in order to force the department to pay its dues to Bestor CC.

“Assets currently being attached include equipment from two server rooms, one at the department’s administration block and the other at Kimberley Hospital, as well as a CT scanner, oxygen machines, X-ray machines and computers from facilities in Kimberley, Kuruman, De Aar and Upington.”

Fritz pointed out that the actual confiscation of this equipment could in effect cripple the hospital’s ability to perform emergency services and also plunge the department into administrative chaos, threatening the day-to-day business of the department, including the ordering of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, as well as the payment of departmental employees.

“The department has up until May 26 to pay its outstanding debt to Bestor CC before saying goodbye to key assets valued at R4.5 million plus an additional R60 000 in interest for late payment,” Fritz added.

“It is unacceptable that the Health Department, through its own financial mismanagement, has placed itself in this precarious position.

“The Health Department is not above the law. The longer the department delays in settling its legal debt, the more the debt escalates due to rising inflation rates, and the more the sick and vulnerable will suffer as a result of funds being channelled away from service delivery.”

The DA called on the MEC for Health to urgently intervene and ensure that everyone who is owed money by the department receives their dues and that those responsible for offering poor legal advice, and in turn hampering payments to lawful beneficiaries, are held accountable.

“The DA further hopes that this finally pushes the department into budgeting for legal liabilities, especially considering that they are currently facing legal claims to the value of over R500 million.”

The Department of Health failed to respond to numerous requests for comment.