…drug and alcohol addicts sent home prematurely after closure
LESOTHO’S only national rehabilitation centre for drug and alcohol addicts, Blue Cross, has shut its doors amid indications that the institution is in a financial crisis owing to a stand-off with its parent, the Ministry of Health.
The Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre was solely funded by the government through the Ministry of Health.
Blue Cross, commonly known for producing the popular rehabilitation play Bokhoba ba Tai aired on local radio, closed shop late last year, prematurely sending home over 30 rehabilitation patients who were still undergoing treatment and were under close supervision by doctors and counsellors.
The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ) understands that the rehabilitation centre closed shop following serious financial constraints, which led it failing to provide its patients with sufficient food and medicine and other vital services. This after the clinic’s management refused to elevate their memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Health into a contract.
The ministry had suggested the elevation of the MOU as a mechanism to ensure accountability of its budgetary support for the institution.
Some sources privy to the case told the MNNCIJ that the Blue Cross board of directors had refused, in several meetings, to account for over M6 million budget allocated by the ministry.
MNNCIJ also understands that the Ministry of Health had not been warned about the centre’s closure by its management.
Over 30 patients were sent home packing just a month into their three-months rehabilitation programme, despite having each paid M650 admission fees for treatment.
The procedure at the facility was that prior to completion of the rehabilitation processes for each patient, the centre prepared the client’s community and close family members to support the patient on discharge to avoid re-addiction.
The centre’s 23 employees, who include counsellors, accountants and administrators, had been suspended with effect from October 2018.
In one of the suspension letters dated 15 October 2018 and signed by the Blue Cross director, Thabo Mokhutšoane, the staff were told to immediately go home on suspension without pay. They would then be informed whenever the board had made progress in resolving the centre’s problems.
Titled “Temporary Layoff for Thaba-Bosiu Centre Staff”, the letter seen by MNNCIJ partly reads; “…Kindly note that board of Blue Cross Centre resolved in their meeting of October 12, 2018, that due to the prevailing circumstances, there will be staff layoffs until we have completed our discussions with the Ministry of Health regarding the development of the contract”.
Mr Mokhutšoane, the sources said, had failed to justify to the employees why the centre was said to be broke.
“As if failure to account for that wasn’t enough, Mr Mokhutšoane literally expelled the ministry’s representative from the meeting with claims that the centre no longer needed the Ministry of Health in the meetings. He (Mr Mokhutšoane) highlighted the need for independence of the centre saying, the government should not pose performance contracts to the secretariat,” said one of the sources.
Another source said: “The Ministry of Health is the sole donor of Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre and over the years, he ministry has always had a representative in the centre’s board of directors for accountability and transparency purposes but things turned around this year (2018) when sometime in July the ministry’s representative was kicked out of a meeting”.
The source said the expulsion of the ministry’s representative from the meeting triggered suspicion that the centre’s funds may have been misused.
“Although his initial salary cannot be established, speculation is rife that Mr Mokhutšoane reviewed his salary upwards to M40 000 monthly and still demanded other perks like medical aid, housing allowance and many other benefits exclusively for himself.”
Contacted for comment, Mr Mokhutšoane said: “It is premature for me to comment in the media about the centre’s issues”.
“I promise to give further details about the centre to the media; giving you preference once the information is ready for public consumption.
MNNCIJ is in possession of a copy of an internal audit report of Blue Cross compiled by New Dawn Chartered Accountants dated July 2018.
The report reveals that the rehabilitation centre has been operating without requisite terms and conditions required of any organisation of that nature.
According to the report, failure to come up with a set of rules and guidelines exposes the centre to be liable to injury and death of clients while at the centre’s premises.
“Terms and conditions are set of rules and guidelines that the user (rehabilitation centre clients) agree to in order to get accepted at the centre. It is the best practice that organisations protect themselves from such liabilities by use of terms and conditions. There is a risk that the centre will be vicariously liable for the actions and or omissions of its clients,” the report notes.
The report goes further to reveal that the centre has been operating for many years without sustainability projects.
According to the report, it is best practice that non-profit making organisations embark on income generating projects to reduce the pressure on donors and secure sustainability of organisational activities.
The audit report also reveals that there are serious inconsistencies in the accounts payable amounts exposing the centre to misstated financial statements.
All the buildings of Thaba-Bosiu Centre have not been insured, the report also said. Although the value cannot be ascertained, the centre has nine buildings which include offices and dormitories for patients.
“There is also failure to maintain proper fixed assets register exposing the centre’s assets to misappropriation,” the report further notes.
The ministry’s principal secretary, Advocate Mole Kumalo, said the centre had become a serious problem to the ministry.
He said there had not been transparency on how the centre’s allocated budget by the Ministry of Health had been spent.
Adv Kumalo said the ministry was not notified by the centre’s management about the closure. He, however, said discussions were underway to find a way forward for the centre to resume operations.
“People should be aware that Ministry of Health as the sole donor of Thaba-Bosiu Centre did not shut down the centre. The ministry was not even aware of the centre’s closure but at least there are serious talks between the centre and the ministry about a way forward and how the centre’s problems can be solved,” Adv Kumalo said.
He said it was a pity that the management of the centre had not prioritised clients’ needs for rehabilitation preferring to only focus on the refusal to sign the performance contracts proposed by the ministry.
“The Ministry of Health realised that there was a serious need for the centre to account for the budget allocated to run the facility and came up with a performance contract as a control mechanism. The Ministry of Health suggested elevating a memorandum of understanding between the ministry and the centre to a contract because the centre claimed that the MOU was just a gentlemen’s agreement”, Adv Kumalo said, adding that the centre had refused the arrangement.
He said the centre’s management refused to account for money allocated but at the same time courted public sympathy with claims that patients had gone home because of serious financial constraints.