Digital Vibes: SIU work may have been ‘shoddy’ – public law expert
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DURBAN - A LEGAL expert from the University of Johannesburg says the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) may have done “shoddy work” regarding government spokesperson Ndabezinhle Sibiya, whom it alleged had links to a company that benefited from the controversial Digital Vibes tender.
Dr Swikani Ncube, a UJ public law expert, said the SIU’s withdrawal of the allegation against Sibiya was tantamount to an admission that they had made a mistake.
“Without a doubt, the admission gives rise to further questions such as: what other mistakes were made? And it dampens the report's findings. However, apart from the former minister, who has taken the report on review, other implicated persons, who no doubt have given the report significant attention, have not as yet identified glaring mistakes as is the case with Mr Sibiya,” Dr Ncube said.
The SIU linked Sibiya to the controversial R150 million Digital Vibes tender, awarded by the national Department of Health in part for the National Health Insurance communication strategy – through a subcontractor Sotobe Media.
Sotobe Media allegedly received potentially irregular payments amounting to R9 781 250 from Digital Vibes.
The SIU’s principal forensic investigator on September 30 had filed a supplementary affidavit to the Special Tribunal admitting to an error and withdrawing the allegation against Sibiya.
On Sunday, the Sunday Times published a retraction on page 2, under the heading “Ndabezinhle Sibiya: Matter of fact”.
“In a graphic accompanying ‘SIU lifts the lid on Zweli Mkhize’s cash ‘n carry’ (August 1) we stated that Sotobe Media received R9.78m of the Digital Vibes cash. Referencing an affidavit by the Special Investigating Unit in its application before the Special Tribunal, we said the company was ‘potentially’ related to Ndabezinhle Sibiya, a former spokesperson of then health minister Zweli Mkhize.
“Sibiya in response issued a statement denying that he has ever had any links to Sotobe Media or any of its directors. The SIU has subsequently filed a supplementary affidavit formally withdrawing the allegation. Upon further investigation the SIU has established that … there is no relationship between Sotobe Media and Mr Ndabezinhle Sibiya,” stated the Sunday Times.
Sibiya noted the Sunday Times’ retraction.
“I can confirm that there are exchanges between my attorneys and the newspaper's attorneys with the view to settle this matter. For now, I want to allow the two parties to agree on the resolution of this matter in everybody's interest,” he said.
He expressed gratitude to those who supported him when he started the fight against those who were tarnishing his name.
Sibiya is currently suing the SIU, a forensic accountant, Arena Holdings, and the Sunday Times editor and printer for R500 000 in damages, for claiming he was linked to Sotobe Media, in the matter between the SIU and Digital Vibes.
SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the SIU would defend the lawsuit.
Asked about the withdrawal of the allegation in the supplementary affidavit, he said: “We did an affidavit where we put him (Sibiya) as a potential link to that company, when the case started. And then in September, we did a supplementary affidavit and we indicated that that link is not there.”
However, Dr Ncube said the SIU has a case to answer.
“The issue of PPE corruption has been a big talking point in the last eight or so months and anyone accused, whether wrongly or not, would have taken a huge hit. It is for this reason that Dr Zweli Mkhize's alleged involvement was being discussed in the context of his presidential ambitions and what the scandal has done to his reputation and by extension his prospects.
“Whether or not this (supplementary affidavit involving Sibiya) was good enough will be tested in court, if the matter goes that far.”
Sibiya said he was determined to clear his name.
He sought relief from the Special Tribunal to declare that this was all done without giving him an opportunity to be heard, and that it was defamatory and false.
Sibiya said in August that his attorney sent a letter of demand to the SIU, stating that he was “falsely and wrongfully associated with Sotobe Media”. His attorneys said this could have been avoided had the SIU contacted him.
“I have suffered harm and continue to suffer harm to my reputation, both in a personal and official capacity, because of the widespread dissemination of the statement linking me to a company that is being investigated for corruption,” he said.