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.
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
irregular‘ campaigns were irregular and the subsequent contracts were void.
It found that 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, “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. they are
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 Covid19 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.
minister was improper and at worst, ’ unlawful
The Hawks have confirmed they are investigating matters related to the R150m Digital Vibes scandal after being handed documents by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) on its probe into the saga.
The elite crime combating unit yesterday said it was looking into the matter after the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) referred recommendations from the SIU for criminal prosecutions.
In a damning 114-page report, made public yesterday by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the SIU detailed how fraud, corruption and contravention of the Public Finance Management Act allegedly occurred when the department of health irregularly acquired the services of Digital Vibes, which was used as a front by associates of former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Hawks spokesperson Katlego Mogale said: “The matter is still under investigation and we shall make no further comment on the status of investigation in this regard.”
The SIU, which was granted a preservation order to freeze R22m held in bank and investment accounts linked to Digital Vibes, has asked the Special Tribunal to set aside the contract for it to recoup the funds.
The SIU report revealed there was evidence “justifying the institution of disciplinary action against Dr Anban Pillay”, the former acting director-general in the department who enabled the appointment of Digital Vibes, run by associates of Mkhize, Tahera Mather and his former personal assistant Naadhira Mitha.
It also recommended Pillay be charged criminally as “his conduct or omissions amounted to financial misconduct”.
The report slammed Pillay for contravening sections of the Public Finance Management Act and the prescripts of the constitution as he displayed gross negligence and fraud in his official duties.
The report found Mather and Mitha had committed fraud in that they held out to the department that Digital Vibes was tendering for the NHI media campaign contract, whereas in fact, both used Digital Vibes as a front. The SIU said they hid the fact they were tendering for the contract as they were close associates of Mkhize.
Mkhize, Pillay, Mather and Mitha did not respond to Sowetan’s requests for comment yesterday.
NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga confirmed it had received the report but that it was sent to the Hawks.
“When the SIU refers matters to us, those matters are not necessarily ready for prosecution and still require investigations by the Hawks, which is what happened to this report.”
SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said they were now involved in case management meetings between their lawyers and those of the 30 people listed as defendants in a matter before the Special Tribunal in which the unit wants the contract to be set aside and monies recovered.
He said they intended to follow the money and attach assets acquired with the funds.
“The freezing order was based on the money that was in the bank accounts at the time but that doesn’t stop us from going for the whole amount [R150m]; if the court rules in our favour we will get this R22m because the money is already there,” he said.