Acting Health Minister urged to allow Digital Vibes probe to go ahead without political interference
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Johannesburg - A call has been made to Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane to allow the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to conduct its probe into the award of a R150 million tender to Digital Vibes without any political influence.
The DA made the call after President Cyril Ramaphosa placed Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on special leave, despite calls from opposition parties that he should have resigned, following media reports that his family - including Mkhize’s son, Dedani Mkhize - had benefited financially from the tender.
Digital Vibes was awarded a R150m contract for communication work. The contract had initially focused on the National Health Insurance scheme, but was expanded last year to include Covid-19 communication work.
The company is owned by Mkhize’s former private assistant, Tahera Mathera, and former spokesperson Naardhira Mitha.
Controversy broke following recent media reports about how Digital Vibes paid for maintenance work at the Mkhizes’ “family property”, north of Joburg, and the alleged transfer of money into the account of his son.
It was also revealed that in May last year, the company transferred R160 000 to a Pietermaritzburg car dealership for a 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser. The car, according to reports, was subsequently registered in Dedani’s name.
Last week, Mkhize admitted to the maintenance work and the transfer of cash to his son, but said: “This made me quite unhappy, and we had to sit down as a family and had a conversation that this kind of relationship was inappropriate, and all these funds need to be returned.”
The ANC welcomed Mkhize’s decision to clear his name before the party’s Integrity Committee.
It was widely expected that Mkhize would appear before the Integrity Committee on Saturday, but that could not be confirmed.
Integrity Committee chairperson George Mashamba and ANC national spokesperson Pule Mabe were not available for comment.
Mkhize was also not available for comment.
The DA said they hoped the appointment of Kubayi-Ngubane would not result in the work of the SIU being interfered with.
DA health spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube said: “While the DA can accept that the removal of Minister Mkhize from office under the ‘special leave’ granted by the president will aid the SIU in conducting an investigation free from political influence, it is still a cop-out.
“Now that an acting minister has been appointed, it is critical that South Africa is not punished for the transgressions of a minister who has reportedly stuck their hands in the national cookie jar of public funds for personal benefit. Minister Kubayi-Ngubane needs to hit the ground running,” Gwarube said.
She said Kubayi-Ngubane must accelerate the vaccine roll-out programme. She said South Africa’s vaccine roll-out plan has been criminally slow and marred by avoidable and unavoidable delays.
Gwarube said the acting minister must ensure that the vaccines that are in the country were dispersed as quickly as possible to the remaining front-line workers and people over 60.
“It is an absolute indictment that in the middle of June – exactly 15 months after this pandemic hit South Africa – thousands of health-care workers remain vulnerable to the third of Covid-19 infections,” Gwarube said.
She said the country needed clarity from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) on the use of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines in the country, saying her party had noted reports by the US Food and Drug Administration about the unsuitability of 60 million J&J vaccines.
“It is critical that the assessment by Sahpra is conducted and concluded soon. This is important for the roll-out of the vaccine and also the public trust in the vaccination process.
“Should these vaccines be found to not be suitable for use, the president must immediately make a pronouncement on how the target of vaccinating 40 million South Africans by year-end will be met,” Gwarube said.