Sun, 25 Aug 2019

President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed an amended proclamation to broaden the terms of reference of the Special Investigating Unit's (SIU) probe into the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

An "ill-fated marathon project" to transfer patients from the Life Esidimeni healthcare facility to NGOs across the province resulted in the deaths of 144 mental healthcare users.

READ Life Esidimeni: Gauteng govt, eligible families reach payment agreement

The ANC and the DA in Gauteng have both welcomed Ramaphosa's move to give the SIU the go-ahead to investigate the deaths.

"The broadened terms of reference include looking into 28 entities in whose care psychiatric patients were entrusted," said Tasneem Motara, ANC Gauteng executive committee spokesperson, in a statement.

Motara said the tragedy remained one of the most "woeful chapters" in the history of public health in Gauteng.

"We reiterate the call that we previously made that all state institutions, including law enforcement agencies as well as regulatory institutions that have been tasked with further investigations into the circumstances that led to the Life Esidimeni tragedy must act swiftly to complete their investigations and take appropriate action against those found to have transgressed the law," Motara said.

Concerns probe could drag on

"We remain hopeful that this process aimed at ensuring that redress and justice are meted out, will eventually contribute to the mending of deep wounds and scars carried by the families and relatives of the deceased. We call on all affected and interested parties to give their full cooperation to the SIU probe into the matter," said Motara.

DA spokesperson on health in the province Jack Bloom said he was concerned that there could be endless investigation "instead of prosecutions that convict guilty people in court".

"We need to know how the SIU is coordinating with the police investigation which is slow and under-resourced. Proper expertise and resources are needed to ensure a speedy conclusion to investigations so that all those implicated in the Esidimeni tragedy are punished," Bloom said.

Bloom said he had repeatedly asked Gauteng Premier David Makhura to take legal steps to force former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and former senior health officials to personally pay the multimillion-rand compensation amount to Esidimeni victims, but to no avail.

In 2017, former president Jacob Zuma signed a proclamation allowing the SIU to investigate allegations against Gauteng's department of health.

The initial proclamation tasked the SIU with investigating matters relating to unlawful and improper conduct on the part of 28 NGOs tasked with taking care of psychiatric patients.

The SIU would look into whether the NGOs were paid "in a manner that was not fair, transparent, equitable and contrary to applicable legislation".

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