Internal probe finds Health Department’s Digital Vibes contract ’irregular’
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CAPE TOWN - The internal probe of the Department of Health into the awarding of a contract to service provider Digital Vibes has not only found the appointment irregular, but also implicated bid committee members.
This emerged when Director General Sandile Buthelezi briefed the portfolio committee on health on Thursday, almost a week after Minister Zweli Mkhize took special leave, while the Special Investigating Unit was conducting its own probe.
Buthelezi said the department had received a final report from the Auditor-General in December that raised red flags and had requested the head of department to conduct further investigations.
Buthelezi said Ngubane Tax Assurance Advisory was appointed to probe the awarding of the contract, changes made to the scope of the contract, and whether the department received value for money.
He said a final report he received from Ngubane in May found the tender process contravened the Public Finance Management Act, and that the appointing of Digital Vibes was irregular.
“The irregularity findings include among others, inconsistencies in the bid committees and lack of disclosure of conflict of interest by some members of the bid committee,” he said.
Buthelezi also said the R37m paid to Digital Vibes constituted fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
He also said Digital Vibes received requests for work from the department on Covid-19 work, prior to their contract being extended.
The department suspended the contract in February and reported the irregular expenditure to the National Treasury.
The department has started disciplinary proceedings against implicated officials and is in discussion with senior counsel to recover the funds.
Buthelezi said the department needed to wait for the report of the SIU in order to supplement the disciplinary process that is underway, as new information may be presented.
Freedom Front Plus’ Philip van Staden said Mkhize should appear before the committee to answer questions.
NFP’s Munzoor Shaik Emam wanted to know who started and concluded the contract.
DA MP Siviwe Gwarube questioned why the department needed to go out on tender, what brief was given to the contractors, and how many services provided were shortlisted, among others.
Her colleague, Haseena Ismail, asked about who signed the contract and whether the department was charged millions for the scheduling of Mkhize’s interviews and public engagements.
Ismail, who also wanted Mkhize summonsed, further asked if any family of Mkhize benefited from the contracts.
ANC MP Tshilidzi Munyai said they should allow the SIU to finalise its investigation to avoid compromising its processes.
Munyai also asked that legal opinion be obtained on how they should handle a matter that had been reported to police.
ANC MP Mxolisa Sokatsha welcomed the update and was pleased that the department was cooperating with the SIU in its investigation.
Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said they could not name the officials that have been implicated in the report, as they had not been given the opportunity to answer, and doing so could lead to missteps in disciplinary proceedings.
She noted frustration of the MPs in wanting more details on the matter.
“What would help is to allow the SIU as the most suitable entity that is investigating the matter and that is drilling down on the details, to come to portfolio committee,” she said.
She said the department did not have some of the information the MPs wanted and the SIU was investigating.
“They would assist the committee more. They are better than us as the department,” Kubayi-Ngubane said.
Kubayi-Ngubane told the committee that her department was cautious not to compromise the investigations.
“We are trying our best to comply with what parliament requires of us, but equally we try to ensure (that) those who do investigations don’t come tomorrow and say we were inhibitors or have been obstructing justice.
“We don’t want to be found to have obstructed justice,” she said.