Mabuyane expected to reshuffle his cabinet after health MEC arrest

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane has been instructed to give his health MEC, Sindiswa Griselda Gomba, the boot. 

Mabuyane is said to have been shielding Gomba, who has faced a range of political embarrassments and allegations of corruption since before being appointed as health MEC. 

Sources close to the story say that the provincial working committee (PWC) advised the premier to “cut Gomba loose immediately”. 

One source,who sits in the provincial committee, told Mail & Guardian that a reshuffle was imminent. 

The party leader said Mabuyane is likely to reshuffle his cabinet in the next week. 

“We can’t have a situation like the one in Gauteng. We have to control this thing before it takes a life of its own. The MEC has been implicated in all kinds of allegations. The blunder with the scooters and the Nelson Mandela funeral are just controversies that the province can’t afford while we are dealing with this astronomical health challenge,” the party leader said. 

Gauteng premier David Makhura was forced to reshuffle his cabinet after the province’s health MEC was implicated in alleged corruption in the personal protective equipment tender last year. 

On Friday last week, Gomba and others were released on bail in the East London court for charges related to the misuse of funds meant for former president Nelson Mandela’s funeral. The charges stem from when Gomba was a deputy mayor in Buffalo City metro.

The charges, related to funds allegedly fraudulently diverted from the Buffalo City metro budget, were provisionally withdrawn in 2019. 

National director of public prosecution Shamila Batohi then called for an urgent report into the matter, and expressed her concern over the delay. 

Speaking to the M&G last week, provincial secretary Lulama Ngcukayitobi stressed the importance of having an MEC of health with an unimpeachable reputation, particularly while the province was facing a mammoth challenge as the epicentre of the second wave of Covid-19

In a statement on Tuesday,  Ngcukayitobi said the PWC reaffirmed the ANC’s “step aside” resolutions on fighting corruption and fraud, which say that all ANC comrades who are formally charged for corruption or other serious crimes must immediately step aside from all their political responsibilities, pending the finalisation of their cases. 

“All the affected comrades are expected to step aside and subject themselves to the provincial integrity commission. We, therefore, call on affected members to act in the interest of protecting the reputation of the movement by acting accordingly and PEC officials have been mandated to meet each comrade individually before the end of this week,” he said. 

In December 2017, public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane released a damning report that exposed how officials in the Buffalo City metro misused money intended for service delivery — including ablution facilities, the refurbishment of schools, water, electricity and sanitation — under the guise of the Mandela funeral. 

She found the Eastern Cape government had misappropriated R300-million. Gomba has also faced criticism for the health department’s response to the pandemic, most notably a disastrous R10-million “ambulance scooter” project. 

Gomba launched the project, together with Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, last year. Scooters purchased by the Eastern Cape health department and intended to transport patients did not meet basic requirements for patient transport as an ambulance.

Trade-union federation Cosatu in the Eastern Cape has also called for Gomba to step aside to allow the legal processes to unfold. 

The ANC’s biggest alliance partner said that although it believes in the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the ANC is the leader of society and has a responsibility to set higher ethical and moral standards for its deployees.

“The ANC as an agent of change cannot be mired in such scandals; it must be the change it wants to see in the society it leads. It is not ideal that the provincial government attracts negative publicity relating to the MEC in a department facing challenges because of Covid-19. This crisis needs serious leadership and not tainted characters,” Cosatu provincial secretary Mkhawuleli Maleki said.

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