Calls mount to act against senior Northern Cape health officials implicated in alleged PPE corruption

Calls mount to act against senior Northern Cape health officials implicated in alleged PPE corruptionIn the dock. Dr Dion Theys (standing left) HOD of the Northern Cape Health Department along with with two other co-accused – Daniel Gaborone who is the department’s chief financial officer (middle) and the deputy director of finance, Victor Nyokong (right) appeared in the Kimberly Magistrate's Court on Monday. PHOTO: Refilwe Mochoari/Spotlight
News & Features

The head of health in the Northern Cape – Dr Dion Theys – appeared in the Kimberly Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

Theys who was appointed as permanent head of health in July this year, along with two other co-accused – Daniel Gaborone who is the department’s chief financial officer, and the deputy director of finance, Victor Nyokong, were released on bail of R5 000 each. This was Theys’ second brush with the law – albeit in different courts – in just over a month after his appointment.

Related Posts

The three spent the weekend behind bars, while six other accused who were also arrested in the same case were released on bail last week.

Spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in the Northern Cape, Mojalefa Senokoatsane told Spotlight that the three accused were arrested last week on Wednesday, along with six others on charges ranging from alleged fraud, corruption, and the contravention of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

This relates to a tender for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) of over R16 million.

Dr Deon Theys, when he was acting HOD in 2020.
Dr Dion Theys, HOD of the Northern Cape Health Department. PHOTO: NC Health/Twitter

When Spotlight approached Theys for comment after his release on bail, he said, “The NPA is trying very hard to tarnish my image.” Theys said they charged him with contravening the PFMA and fraud and then withdrew them and “now they added corruption”. You don’t charge first and then look for evidence of corruption. It’s totally unfair and debilitating to me.”

Forging ahead

Senokoatsane told Spotlight that the case was provisionally withdrawn last year “to allow law enforcement to continue their investigations”.

Spotlight reported on this development at the time, and Senokoatsane responded to the provisional withdrawal of the case, saying that the matter was still being investigated and the NPA believed that there was a case that needed to be answered by the accused. He also said at the time that they were trying to get more evidence, and should they find more evidence, the case would be reinstated.

He would not reveal what new developments prompted the case to be reinstated now.

The state opposed bail for the three accused on Monday, citing possible intimidation of witnesses. Bail was, however, granted as the court found that the witnesses who claimed they were being intimidated by the accused could not provide sufficient evidence to support their allegations.

Responding to the decision, Senokoatsane said, “As the NPA, we take note of the judgement by the presiding officer. Going forward as the prosecution, we will be forging ahead with the case because we believe that R16.9 million of the public purse was spent and that the accused must account. I would also like to state that this is just one of many cases that are being presented. More cases are still coming, and we will be sending information out very soon when we are ready.”

Convicted and sentenced

Earlier this month, Theys – in a different case heard in the Kimberly Specialised Commercial Crimes Court – was “convicted and sentenced” for contravening the PFMA.

According to Hawks Spokesperson in the Northern Cape, Nomthandazo Mnisi, Theys “used his position to sign three lease agreements with JP Hugo residence for nursing accommodation at a cost of over R96 million without following proper procurement processes”. Mnisi said in a statement Theys was arrested in March 2021 and made numerous court appearances until his sentencing on 17 August.

“He was found guilty on 17 August 2023 on all counts and was sentenced to a fine of R150 000 or three years imprisonment of which R100 000 or two years imprisonment is suspended for a period of five years on condition that the accused is not found guilty of Contravention of Section 86 (1) of the Public Finance Management Act, committed during the time of suspension,” Mnisi said.

Dr Dion Theys entering the Magistrate’s Court on Monday. PHOTO: Refilwe Mochoari/Spotlight

In a document that reads “Notes for Comms Dept” which Theys provided to Spotlight on Friday 18 August when approached for comment, it appears that the department is considering taking the case on appeal. In the document, it is stressed that “Theys has not been found guilty of corruption or embezzlement of state funds, on the contrary, the court was satisfied that the state did not suffer any financial loss at all”.

When Spotlight asked Northern Cape Health spokesperson, Lebogang Majaha on Tuesday to confirm if the department will appeal, he said he cannot talk until a formal statement is released.

Looking into the matter

Speaking to Spotlight about the current case relating to the PPE tender, Majaha says the accused are still officials of the health department and will return to work while internal processes are being followed.

In a statement released by the department last week, Majaha said the MEC for Health, Maruping Lekwene, has noted the court proceedings involving Theys and eight other officials.

“The department is currently looking into the matter and will provide a way forward and after all internal processes have been finalised in line with relevant legislation. A comprehensive media statement will be issued to appraise the public on our position going forward,” he said.

The three accused congratulated each other on being granted bail on Monday. PHOTO: Refilwe Mochoari/Spotlight

Majaha declined to respond to Spotlight’s questions on what these internal processes are and what the new developments may mean for Theys in his new – now permanent role. The provincial health department has been without a permanent head since 2020. Theys has been acting in this position since April this year after his suspension was lifted.

Bronwyn Thomas-Adams confirmed to Spotlight that Theys was appointed permanent health HOD on 1 July.

Majaha would also not divulge details on whether the department is paying Theys’ legal fees.

Outrage over department’s ‘inaction’

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the province is calling on government to fire Theys and to stop paying his legal costs.

DA Member of the provincial legislature and the party’s provincial leader, Harold McGluwa, insisted that Theys must be fired with immediate effect.

“Over the past years, Premier Zamani Saul has downplayed the seriousness of PFMA violations when the DA, on numerous occasions, questioned his stance on the matter,” he said. He added that “at the very least, Theys should be subjected to internal disciplinary action.”

McGluwa said contravening the PFMA is not a minor issue and often “translates into corruption of public funds intended for service delivery but ends up in the pockets of connected cadres”.

He also said the DA will submit questions in the legislature to Lekwene regarding the legal fees and bail payments of Theys and his co-accused. According to McGluwa, Lekwene last year confirmed that the department paid the legal bills amounting to R1 million last year.

“Anyone who is prepared to rob the most sick and vulnerable people of society of healthcare must themselves pay the price of justice,” McGluwa said.

Provincial Secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) in the Northern Cape, Moleme Moleme, says they are not surprised that the matter “is finding traction and senior managers are being hauled through courts having to spend weekends in prison”. He said Nehawu expects “more to be uncovered” and for the HOD to be withdrawn from his position. We also expect internal processes to be followed,” said Moleme. “As Nehawu, we have always raised concerns around the issue of corruption in the department and particularly around the procurement of PPE. Our position is clear – we want to fight corruption and we expect consistency from the administration because when our members are faced with such issues, the department hurries to put them through disciplinary processes.”