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Health DG faces MPs over Digital Vibes debacle

Health Department director-general Sandile Buthelezi. Picture: @DrZweliMkhize/Twitter

Health Department director-general Sandile Buthelezi. Picture: @DrZweliMkhize/Twitter

Published Jun 4, 2021


Cape Town - Health Department director-general Sandile Buthelezi has used the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the criminal case opened by the DA in the awarding of an irregular contract to service provider Digital Vibes to not answer questions from MPs on Friday.

“This matter is with law enforcement agencies and I am directly implicated in the case opened in Cape Town. It would be difficult to go into the details,” Buthelezi said.

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He made the statement when he appeared before the health portfolio committee in morning.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize did not attend the meeting, apparently on legal advice that it would be incorrect for him to lead the department delegation to brief the committee on an investigation that touches on him.

Addressing the committee, Buthelezi said that when he joined the department last year, the Auditor-General presented a report that raised issues on irregular expenditure, including one involving Digital Vibes, and he needed to do further investigations.

“We appointed forensic firms to do investigations on this one and other matters,” he said, adding that they have received reports from different firms.

Buthelezi told MPs that Digital Vibes came under media scrutiny and the SIU took interest and started its own investigation.

He said the SIU had asked for the forensic investigation report and to link with the firm, and began interviewing officials and summonsed documents.

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Buthelezi said the forensic investigation was now part of the SIU investigation and that the corruption-busting body informed them not to treat the report as final.

“That final report on administrative matters from the forensic firm is with the SIU and the SIU will guide us on steps of implementation. If money is to be recovered, I might go ahead.”

He, however, said the department had decided not to do much but rather wait since the forensic report was not final, “as per advice from the SIU”.

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“I am guided by our attorney that I should refrain from commenting on the report, besides it is with SIU,” he said, adding that they would move ahead with disciplinary processes upon receiving green light from the SIU.

The ANC MPs welcomed Buthelezi’s briefing but the opposition were not impressed. Earlier they had stated that the matter was sub judice and insisted that anything Buthelezi said could be used against him by SAPS.

DA MP Siviwe Gwarube said laying charges did not create limitations to account and wished MPs could acquaint themselves with the sub judice principle. Gwarube said there were other issues around the awarding of the contract and asked what flags the Auditor-General raised and the findings.

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“That is a different investigation to one sanctioned by you.”

ANC MP Tshilidzi Bethuel Munyai said they welcomed the update and the guidance the department obtained from its attorneys.

Freedom Front Plus’s Philip van Staden expressed disappointment that they could not get answers and clarity to questions. He asked that they be informed with available information available so that they fulfilled their responsibilities. He also urged Mkhize to provide clarity on all matters before the SIU issues its report by the end of the month.

EFF MP Naledi Chirwa said the right to remain silent was for an accused person during a criminal trial. Chirwa said Mkhize and Buthelezi could no longer do their jobs and MPs were unable to fulfil their constitutional obligations to hold them accountable.

“The country can't be held at ransom by criminal dealings of ministers and executives who can't fulfil obligations and be available for Parliamentary processes in the interest of being held accountable,” she added.

Buthelezi said he understood the responsibility of MPs and that it was not that they would not get answers.

“It is a matter of time as we are requested not to prejudice the investigation of SIU which is a supreme investigation.”

He confirmed that there were irregularities in awarding the Digital Vibes contract and the department was dealing with administrative processes such as reporting to the National Treasury in terms of the Public Finance Management Act.

“We want to assure the committee that once we have the final (and) complete report we will implement it fully without fear or favour. We will leave criminal issues that have been raised to take their course.”

Buthelezi also said the AG’s report, which had raised over-charging among other things, was a public document and he was unaware that they were needed to make a presentation to the committee on it. He told the MPs that the SIU was working on the irregularities, the amounts involved and following the money.

“I believe if members want more detail, the committee can ask the SIU to do a direct briefing. We don’t want to prejudice the investigation,” Buthelezi said.

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Political Bureau