Barney Tiego Selebano, the suspended head of the Gauteng health department, on Wednesday admitted he was responsible for the deaths of 143 psychiatric patients linked to the botched and tragic transfers from Life Esidimeni.
“I take accountability. It happened under my watch,” Selebano told retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke during the second day of testifying before the Esidimeni arbitration hearings.
Selebano also conceded the patients died as a result of, among other ills, negligence.
On Tuesday, HOD admitted that he approved the plan to move patients to unlicensed NGOs. He said he didn’t inspect whether the facilities were fit for their purpose, as he had tasked his managers to do so.
“It’s not feasible for an HOD anywhere in the country to run every single project on the ground. Thats why you trust your managers, if you don’t trust them, who are you going to trust,” Selebano said..
The HOD, who is a medical doctor, said that if he had known better, he wouldn’t have allowed the marathon project to take place.
He, however, failed to answer why his health department continued to move patients when their own psychiatrists and families of the patients warned against the transfer.
“Despite all warnings, you and the MEC [Qedani Mahlangu] pushed ahead with the project, was it executive arrogance?” asked Moseneke.
“No, I am not an arrogant person,” Selebano replied.
“Death is the ultimate price these patients paid, there are also survivors of this tragedy. Why did you proceed despite warnings?” pressed Moseneke.
“If I had the foresight, I would have stopped,” said Selebano
“But you were warned?” asked Moseneke.
“It’s difficult for me to go back to 2015 and determine my state of mind then. I accept there were warnings,” he replied.
Selebano also revealed that he inquired about buying Life Esidimeni and realised it was possible to buy it cash to ensure continuity, yet he failed to explain why he didn’t purchase it.
“Why didn’t you buy the facilities instead of displacing patients? It would have spared us the tragedy …” asked Mosenke.
“If I could have seen into the future, I would have,” Selebano replied.
Moseneke told Selebano that by law he was expected to take steps that would avoid harm.
Advocate Adila Hassim for Section 27 pointed out that government was planning to spend 20 million in 2015/16/17 and 18 on new projects and questioned Selebano on why the money could not be used to continue caring for patients at Life Esidimeni.
The hearing continues.