AN UNDERCOVER investigation by Eastern Cape Health MEC Sicelo Gqobana has exposed what he believes to be a link in a drug syndicate operating across the province, siphoning off state medicine meant for the poor.
The MEC personally led the investigation, dressing up like a tsotsi to go undercover to determine just how easy it was to buy medicine apparently stolen from the department’s medical depots. The syndicate is thought to involve doctors, pharmacists and civil servants.
In an exclusive interview Gqobana told the Daily Dispatch how he bought stolen painkillers from a house in a Port Elizabeth township where massive amounts of medicine were being kept by what his investigations show is a a drug syndicate operating across the Eastern Cape, including Mthatha, Mount Frere, Elliot, Port Elizabeth and Queenstown.
Gqobana told the Dispatch that the departmental investigation – which started last year – had already uncovered much of the group’s modus operandi.
“We kept the house [in Port Elizabeth] under surveillance for some time and watched all the people coming and going. I decided to find out how easy it was to purchase drugs from the house,” he said.
The MEC approached the house, waited in the long queue and bought R150 worth of drugs without being questioned.
“I was surprised and shocked at how easy it was. All I did was act and dress like a township tsotsi. I was definitely not wearing my suit and was hoping to bust the owner of the house but only her son was there,” he said.
Gqobana said while undercover he had peered through the windows of the house and was shocked to see large quantities of state-owned medicine.
“There was no furniture – only boxes of medicine. Even more than a private hospital has in its storage,” he said.
The police were called and the MEC said he pleaded with the officers to put the house under constant surveillance.
“I offered to give the police money to see how easy it was to buy medicine and pleaded with them to keep the house under surveillance,” he said.
The Eastern Cape has two medicine depots – one in Mthatha and the other in Port Elizabeth. Health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo described the theft of medicine from the department’s depots as a “satanic act”.
“We are always taking the blame for shortages of drugs while some people are involved in this. It will end soon,” he said.
The spokesman said the department would not rest until all the syndicate members were behind bars.
Addressing hospital managers in Mthatha last week, Gqobana said he was putting pressure on the police to speed up arrests at the Mthatha depot, which burnt down in April.
“We have also established there is a network of people stealing medicine from the depot. We cannot adopt a stick and carrot attitude. What is happening at that depot will come to an end,” he vowed.
It is believed the depot was torched to cover up evidence of the theft.
The department has already supplied the police with the licence plates of the vehicles used and the names of the doctors involved in this leg of the scam.
But on Thursday Gqobana expressed his frustration at what he described as the slow reaction by the police overall, saying that although the details of the department’s investigation had been handed over several months ago there had been no arrests.
“Why is nothing being done? The way they are treating this issue raises suspicion upon itself,” said Gqobana.
Kupelo added: “We gave police a document following a lengthy investigation including the MEC’s undercover work.
“We are concerned and extremely frustrated by the level of non-action from the police in dealing with this matter. We know the syndicate and have given the police all the information they need.”
Gqobana last week requested a meeting with provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Celiwe Binta to ask for answers as to why no arrests had been made.
Eastern Cape police spokesman Captain Ernest Sigobe said the investigation into the thefts at the Mthatha depot had been concluded and the docket had been handed over to the deputy director for public prosecutions.
Contacted for comment, National Prosecuting Authority regional communications manager Tsepo Ndwalaza said it would be difficult to provide information unless the Dispatch could supply a reference number for the docket.
Last year, the Dispatch reported how two health department officials and one King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality worker were arrested for stealing medicine at the Mthatha depot.
They were arrested after allegedly stealing R220000 worth of medicine last year.
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Article source: http://www.dispatch.co.za/news/article/3180