The Department of health has once again claimed to be bankrupt just two months before the national budget could be tabled by finance minister, Tito Mboweni, and subsequently, the provincial treasury. This time the blame was placed on the department itself for returning the money which was not used for the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Towards the end of last year, the department had reported that they had run short of finances due to for unseen expenses because of the pandemic, and they were going to ask for more from the treasury. MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba announced that her department was bankrupt shortly before the Medium Term Budget Strategy (MTBS) was tabled by Mboweni. Ramathuba then said the money they had in hand would carry her department to March 2021, and as result they were appealing for funds from the Treasury.
She added that they had lobbied for more from the office of the Premier and Treasury. According to the National Finance Management Act, departments should not return the funds they were allocated. In most instances departments were criticized by the Auditor General (AG) for returning monies that were for meant for service delivery, which if not spent, had a negative impact on the communities of their department’s jurisdiction.
“After the first wave of Covid-19 passed, we returned the money back to the Treasury which is the reason why the department is now bankrupt. We followed the law that states if money could not be used, it should be returned to treasury. Therefore, we wrote to them requesting that that money should be returned to the province in order to deal with the second wave,” explained Ramathuba.
Before Ramathuba’s statement, there were existing concerns in many of the rural areas in Limpopo and Mopani District in particular, that clinics were no longer serving the communities they were built for and instead they were used as dispensaries for chronic diseases patients. In some medical centres in Mopani there are no sanitizers and therefore residents are prohibited to enter.
The fact that the Limpopo Health Department is forever in need of bailouts from treasury is not new news. Just last year, the same Ramathuba complained of lack of finances in her department and said that they would not be able to finish the financial year with their remaining funds. This statement she made just six months after the budgets were allocated. When they received the money, they returned it to Treasury.
In fact, after the emergence of Covid-19, all health services were centralized, and focus was placed on coronavirus patients. Clinics were transformed into referral centres, or first options before ambulances were called to a scene. Patients with chronic diseases were referred to clinics for the collection of medication, while also discouraged to visit the health centres because they were hotspots. In the meantime Ramathuba is still under investigation following allegations of PPE tender fraud.