Digital Vibes contract was irregular and wasteful, says Zweli Mkhize
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Cape Town - A forensic investigation has found that a tender awarded to Digital Vibes, a company associated with individuals linked to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, contravened tender processes and constituted irregular and wasteful expenditure to the value of R150 million, Mkhize said on Tuesday.
“From the outset, I wish to publicly state that the outrage, anger, questions, comments, expression of disappointment and disgust by members of the public with what has been reported in the media regarding this Digital Vibes contract is well justified. It is the very same red flags that were highlighted by the Auditor General in December that made me request the Director General to not just hand over this investigation to internal audit but to urgently appoint a firm of investigators who would have the necessary capacity and independence to scrutinise all the documents related to this contract,” Mkhize said during his public briefing on the matter on Tuesday morning.
“Although the AG had raised the issue of possible overcharging by Digital Vibes, in my discussion with the Director General, I suggested that we use the opportunity to interrogate the awarding of the contract, the changing of scope of NHI to Covid-19 and whether the Department did receive value for money. The Director General proceeded as such and the report that the Department now sits with covers all those areas.”
The probe was instituted by the Department of Health in January, and investigations are still under way to determine whether there was fraud or corruption involved in the process, the minister said.
A “process of instituting disciplinary action against all implicated individuals is also under way,” Mkhize said. He said the details of the processes would be made public at a later date.
The former personal spokesperson and a long-time friend of Mkhize, Tahera Mather, and Mkhize’s former personal assistant, Naadhira Mitha – communications strategists during the minister’s so-called ANC #Unity campaign in 2017 – are at the centre of the storm linked to Digital Vibes’ R150 million Covid-19 and National Health Insurance (NHI) communications contract.
It is alleged that Digital Vibes even charged the Department of Health millions of rand for scheduling Mkhize’s media briefings, interviews and other public engagements related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Digital Vibes also allegedly submitted inflated bills for NHI-related projects.
On Tuesday, Mkhize said that Mitha had resigned her position in his office but had not indicated that she would be joining a company that would provide services to his department.
“I am also aware that the key narrative has been that this contract has been awarded to my close associates and that I may have used my influence to award the contract. In our very first public response to this matter, I did confirm that Miss Mitha had worked in my office as a PA (personal assistant. She then tendered her resignation, and in fact the details of her resignation were communicated to me by her direct supervisor,” he said.
He said that while he had worked with both Mitha and Mather, neither of them are considered his personal friends but rather comrades.
Mkhize said that, contrary to media reports, he did not appoint Mitha or anyone else to be his spokesperson during his 2017 ANC campaign.
Mkhize said that legal processes to recover the funds were under way.
The final report has been handed to President Cyril Ramaphosa, the National Treasury and the Special Investigation Unit.
The SIU on Monday said that their investigation into the matter was nearing completion.