The former director-general of clinical services at the Gauteng Department of Health has conceded that he was part of the decision-making process that approved the termination of the Life Esidimeni group contract.
Dr Richard Lebethe was facing cross-examination for a third day at the Life Esidimeni inquest on Tuesday.
The inquest is probing who should be held responsible for the deaths of 144 psychiatric patients who died when they were moved to various NGOs. This is after the department had decided to terminate its contract with the Life Esidimeni Group. Lebethe had spent much of his testimony distancing himself from decision-making processes for the project to move over a thousand patients from Life Esidimeni.
He said he was often busy when meetings took place to discuss the patient removal project. However, statements presented by witnesses have shown he may have played an active role. Levy Mosenogi, a former department official provided an affidavit that places Lebethe in charge of the project.
Mosenogi’s lawyer, advocate Benedict Maphahle, read a letter written by former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu in which she urged officials to implement the project. Lebethe was also shown a statement in which Mosenogi stated that Lebethe was present when the decision to terminate the Life Esidimeni contract was decided. Lebethe conceded that he was part of that decision-making meeting.
In Mahlangu’s letter, written in November 2015, Lebethe also conceded that he was “in charge” of the project because he was the head of clinical services. However, he repeated earlier statements that he was busy and that mental health officials were in charge while he was busy.
“That may have been the mandate, but people who had specific responsibilities in the project were others who did not have broad responsibilities in the department. It would have been hard for me to run the project and run other aspects of the department,” Lebethe told the court.
Lebethe also confirmed that he was present when complaints were made about the process to move patients. Mosenogi, who is still to testify, had pleaded with Mahlangu in a meeting to extend the deadline for the Life Esidimeni project for six months or up to a year.
Mosenogi was concerned about moving patients in a rush within a short space of time. The patients were sickly and were at risk of relapsing, Mosenogi’s statement said.
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