Dorothy Franks, who headed non-governmental organisation Anchor, continued to receive payments from the provincial department of health and withdrew patients’ social grants months after her NGO was shutdown, the Life Esidimeni arbitration heard on Monday.
Franks, a financial controller by training, illegally ran Anchor in Pretoria and received 70 patients from Life Esidimeni and Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Home (CCRC). Psychiatric patients were moved out of CCRC to the NGO in order to make space for the patients from Life Esidimeni.
”The operation was shut down between October 2016 and February 2017, inspectors came and the place was closed, why did you submit claims after the shutdown?” arbitration chairman, former Deputy Justice Dikgang Moseneke asked Franks on Monday.
She replied that she was advised by CCRC CEO Matilda Malaza to continue submitting claims because her agreement with the department was still in place.
”She said workers were still there and they still needed to be paid, so I should do submissions accordingly.”
Franks told the arbitration that her payments were authorised by a Paul Trina at the department’s finance section. She added that she was familiar with finance staff at the department. Franks further continued to withdraw Sassa grants of 29 of her patients at R1500 each. Some of the patients she withdrew the money from were already dead. The last withdrawal was in March this year, she testified.
Advocate Nicky Steyn, who represents over 50 victims’ families, asked a seemingly confused Franks whether there was a need to buy food, clothes and other supplies after the NGO was shutdown. She replied she had a monthly salary bill of R124,000.
Moseneke asked: ”You took people’s money to pay your staff? Who told you that Sassa payments were meant to pay salaries…you took money from people who were already dead, isn’t it?”
Franks replied: ”Yes, Justice.”
Steyn said it was clear Franks registered and ran the illegal NGO in order to make money.
”You could not resist the pressure from the department to take in patients because you feared you would lose money, isn’t it?” Steyn asked, to which Franks conceded.
Franks was the third head of an NGO to testify at the arbitration after Siyabadinga’s Dianne Noyile and Ethel Ncube of Precious Angels. She said she registered her NGO and received a licence in April 2016 to care for children only.
However, she continued to house adult psychiatric patients even though she did not have qualifications or experience to care for them, adding that she was pressurised by department officials ”from high above” to accommodate patients.
Moseneke asked her why she agreed to take in patients when she did not have the knowledge to look after them.
”You do not work for the department…why did you not refuse? Why would you do something knowingly wrong such as putting male and female patients in one ward? What were you afraid of?” he asked.
”If you did not do it, you wouldn’t have received over R1 million in payments, isn’t it? How can you be a financial controller today and then next take in and care for mental patients?”
Franks said she did it because she cared for the patients. Her cry for help to the now suspended Gauteng head of mental health Makgabo Manamela and head of department Barney Tiego Selebano ”fell on deaf ears” she said.
Five patients died at Anchor. Three of them died from pneumonia.
Former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is widely blamed for the botched relocation of more than 3,000 former Life Esidimeni patients to unlicensed NGOs, where 141 of them died due to starvation and neglect. Fifty nine of the patients are still unaccounted for.
– African News Agency (ANA)