National Health Laboratory Service heads accused of graft

22 February 2017
BD Live

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has accused top executives at the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) of corruption and maladministration, prompting the organisation’s board to commission a forensic audit.

The investigation, conducted by Grant Thornton, is complete and its recommendations are due to be discussed at a two-day board meeting that begins on Wednesday.

Among the NHLS executives fingered by Nehawu are CEO Joyce Mogale, chief financial officer Sikhumbuzo Zulu and human resources executive manager Mojaki Mosia.

"They are mainly accused of maladministration and corruption," said Nehawu spokesman Khaya Xaba.

The NHLS is considered the backbone of the public health system as it provides vital tests used to diagnose and monitor diseases ranging from HIV to cervical cancer. It also offers some highly specialised tests that are not available in the private sector.

It is widely regarded as world-class and gave vital support to West Africa during its Ebola crisis, but it has battled to run a tight ship here at home.

It has struggled with cash-flow problems caused by billing disputes with some of the provinces and had to deal with a protracted wage dispute with Nehawu, which threatened the provision of vital services.

Board chairman Eric Buch refused to be drawn on the allegations or the audit findings. The board had asked Mogale, Zulu and Mosia to make representations to the board by close of business on Tuesday, he said.

Mogale said the NHLS had an anonymous tip-off line that was independently managed by an audit firm and staff were encouraged to report any form of misconduct. "It is common for the audit and risk committee to recommend further investigation on any allegations received through the … hotline," she said.

Xaba said Nehawu had requested a copy of the forensic audit report but had yet to receive it.

The 2015 dispute between Nehawu and the NHLS centred on the implementation of a new pay scale. At the time, then acting CEO Mogale said the cash-strapped laboratory service could not afford to implement the new remuneration policy as quickly as Nehawu wanted.

At that stage, provinces were largely paying their bills on time but the NHLS was still saddled with their historic debts.