The Eastern Cape government’s mini-ambulance scooter saga is becoming even murkier following the provincial Department of Health saying it never bought motorbike sidecars to transport sick patients.
The department announced last month that it would use the bikes with sidecars as Covid-19 ambulances in rural areas. But critics immediately said they were unsuitable for transporting sick people in rainy weather over bumpy terrain.
Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Siyanda Manana told the Daily Maverick news website on Wednesday 15 July that the department had never actually bought the motorbike ambulances. He said it had bought mobile clinics for R10 million, not scooters, and had shown Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize the scooters merely as an example of the kind of vehicles that were “possible”.
“We did not intentionally deceive him,” Manana said.
However, Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane’s office released a presentation on 31 May titled “Update on Covid-19-related procurement”. On the list of items ordered, R10.1 million was set aside for “scooters for tracing teams”.
The presentation, which included all procurement orders placed up to 22 May, listed medical and hospital equipment worth R422 million. Personal protective equipment, biohazard bags, perspex dividers for desks, ECG machines, hospital mattresses and syringe drivers to allow the gradual administration of medication were included on the list.
There was no mention of mobile clinics, and the provincial government has not released any more recent procurement updates. New Frame asked the province’s health department, treasury and premier’s office why, if the mobile clinics had been ordered, they were not mentioned in the procurement report, and what had happened to the scooters for the tracing teams that were said to have been ordered.
Manana said he was no longer commenting on the issue. The premier’s office said the list of procured items had been supplied by the provincial treasury. Treasury spokesperson Phumelele Godongwana said it had no further information because it had written the list of items to be procured based solely on information provided by provincial departments.
Mobile clinic provider
Eastern Cape-based company Fabkomp told New Frame it had a letter awarding it the tender to provide 100 mobile clinics to the government. Fabkomp has started to put together the clinics, but it will take three months to complete all 100 clinics from the time the company gets an order number from the government. This means it is unlikely they will be ready during the peak of the coronavirus crisis.
“I have no order number. I haven’t supplied a single unit and I haven’t been paid, nothing,” said Fabkomp owner Brian Harmse.
Harmse’s company hasn’t been asked to submit a bid for a tender for scooters that could be used by tracing team members as Fabkomp doesn’t sell scooters, it only sells bikes with sidecars. The clinic sidecars consist of a blood pressure machine, magnetic bowls for steel medical instruments, two chairs, a water basin, a big gazebo with enclosed sides, and scales for weighing adults and babies. Health workers can use these to set up pop-up clinics in rural areas where there are no medical facilities for miles, although unions have said that there aren’t necessarily 100 nurses with motorbike licences currently working in the Eastern Cape.
“They won’t be going out trying to trace people in these – that is impossible. The clinic is meant to go purely to a site and be rigged up. If you want to go and trace people, you just jump on a motorbike with a backpack,” said Harmse.
Fabkomp has been working with the provincial health department for 14 years, he added.
In the meantime, it is still unclear why the budgeted R10.1 million has not been paid and whether any scooters were ever bought for the Covid-19 tracing teams.