Former health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
Former health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Special Investigations report makes damning findings on Zweli Mkhize, Anban Pillay for Digital Vibes contract

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Sep 30, 2021

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Pretoria - The government has said it would engage with the Department of Health on the Special Investigations (SIU) report which has slammed former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and his acting director-general of health Anban Pillay for the Digital Vibes contract.

The report, among other things, found that Mkhize lied when he said his family did not benefit from the R150 million contract with the company.

Apart from lashing Mkhize, the report also made damning findings against Pillay.

The SIU called for his criminal prosecution into financial misconduct.

The report into the investigation of the Department of Health on the Digital Vibes scandal was released yesterday.

Dr Anban Pillay. Picture: Supplied

While Mkhize publicly denied any wrongdoing regarding the matter, a different picture was painted in the SIU report.

According to the report, evidence showed that Mkhize and his family benefited from the contract.

The department signed an agreement with media company Digital Vibes in 2019 to run its National Health Insurance (NHI) and later Covid-19 media campaign.

An investigation into the matter followed after the SIU received allegations from a whistle-blower regarding potential irregularities in the award of the campaign.

The SIU said evidence indicated that the procurement processes regarding the NHI and Covid-19 media campaigns were irregular and the subsequent contracts were void.

It found that irregular expenditure amounting to approximately R150m and fruitless and wasteful expenditure amounting to approximately between R72m and R80m was incurred by the national department.

It said evidence indicated that Pillay should be criminally prosecuted for financial misconduct.

It was further found that Pillay, in a letter to the National Treasury in May last year, where he requested approval to deviate from normal procurement procedures, made numerous misrepresentations, which the SIU said amounted to fraud.

Some of the most damning findings were, however, made against Mkhize regarding the media company which is owned by Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha.

According to the report, they are “close associates” of Mkhize.

In terms of the findings, Digital Vibes paid R 6 720 for repairs at a property belonging to the former minister.

In addition, it paid R300 000 (via a company belonging to Mather) to a company belonging to Mkhize’s son and R160 000 to a Pietermaritzburg car dealership to buy a second-hand car for the then minister’s son.

At the time of the above-mentioned transactions, the Department of Health had transferred approximately R50m to Digital Vibes for services related to the Covid-19 media campaign.

During a media briefing in May, Mkhize denied that he or his family had benefited from the deal.

“This denial was, objectively speaking, untrue, as the (then) minister’s son and the (then) minister himself (via property belonging to him) had directly benefited from Digital Vibes, which in turn had benefited from department contracts,” the report stated.

In January and June last year, Mkhize approved budgets of approximately R132m in respect of the NHI and Covid-19 media campaigns.

In this regard, the report said: “It should be noted that this budget of R46m for the NHI media campaign was approved by the (then) minister 52 days after the service-level agreement between the department and Digital Vibes had already been signed.

“It should be noted that this budget of R85m for the NHI media campaign was approved by the minister more than six months after the service level agreement between the department and Digital Vibes had already been signed.

“In these circumstances, the (then) minister should at least have raised concerns regarding the belated budget approval request and the fact that the budget had already been allocated to a service provider (Digital Vibes)…”

It noted that a Cabinet memorandum stated that the GCIS would be responsible for the rollout of the NHI communication strategy.

“…It is astonishing that the (then) minister thereafter, contrary to the Cabinet memorandum, allowed Digital Vibes to be appointed.

“In fact, it can be argued that the (then) minister deliberately ignored a Cabinet decision in this regard,” the report stated.

It also referred to an instance when Mkhize sent a WhatsApp message to the then director-general of the department and told her to sort out the NHI contract with Digital Vibes.

“It is apparent from the contents of the WhatsApp message that the (then) minister was giving instructions to the director-general.

“At best, this conduct on the part of the minister was improper and at worst, unlawful, as it constituted an interference by the executive authority,” the report stated.

The report recommended that the department should in future rather consider using state resources and not outside contractors.

The chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on health, Dr Kenneth Jacobs, welcomed the release of the report.

He said he would soon engage with the department about the report.

Pretoria News

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