Ex-MEC Mahlangu's lawyer accuses Life Esidimeni of price gouging

October 27 2016. SEEKING ANSWERS: Family members of psychiatric patients who died hold an ‘ Esidimeni 37’ prayer vigil outside Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s offices.
October 27 2016. SEEKING ANSWERS: Family members of psychiatric patients who died hold an ‘ Esidimeni 37’ prayer vigil outside Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s offices.
Image: Antonio Muchave

The legal representative for former MEC  for health Qedani Mahlangu accused the Life Esidimeni group of price gouging and rendering the Department of Health unable to afford their fees.

Adv Laurence Hodes, who was speaking at the Life Esidimeni inquest on Monday, took the court through the increasing fees of the Life Esidimeni contract between 2011 and 2015.

He said the Department of Health was paying R209m  in the 2011/2012 financial year for 2,000 patients and this increased to R224m  in the 2012/2013 financial year. Then in the 2013/2014 financial year it cost the Department of Health R235m  and by the 2014/2015 financial year it cost the department R323m.

The inquest is investigating whether there can be any criminal liability for the 144 deaths of mental healthcare patients in ill-equipped facilities. 

Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa, former MD of Life Esidimeni, denied the price gouging and said it was in line with the increasing cost of living in general.

“The rate or tariff increases were renegotiated on a year-on-year basis. Life Esidimeni did not have any control over the escalations that were caused by CPI [consumer price index]," said Mkhatshwa.

“The annual tariff increases were deliberated by the Life Esidimeni team and the Department of Health. As much as the cost of living has been going up for the normal citizen it has been going up for the Life Esidimeni facilities as well.” 

Hodes said after the patients were removed from Life Esidimeni, Mahlangu had to go and ask for donations on radio because Life Esidimeni did not provide patients with their basic necessities. “The documents pertaining to the people and their medications were not received,” said Hodes.

“You made sporadic visits so you cannot account for every person, you cannot say as a fact under oath, say that every person left with their medication because you were not involved in the process,” said Hodes

“Even Miss Mahlangu had to appeal to public on radio 702 with John Robbie to get clothing and shoes for people who left your facilities without the very basics of clothing.”

Mkhatshwa said he cannot take responsibility for patients having no essentials after leaving Life Esidimeni facilities because they were taken by health officials and not delivered to their new residences by the facility.

The inquest continues.

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