PRETORIA | Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, has confirmed that seven officials implicated in the Digital Vibes scandal will be served with suspension letters.
“The Acting Director-General has also been making sure that the affected individuals are informed about what is coming. The letters are already prepared, and seven officials will be suspended by the end of business today,” Phaahla said.
This comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday authorised the release of the Special Investigating Unit’s final report into the Health Department’s irregular R150 million National Health Insurance (NHI) and COVID-19 media campaign contract scored by Digital Vibes.
The department, according to Phaahla, noted the serious allegations against several departmental senior officials, particularly the Deputy Director-General responsible for Health Regulations and Compliance, Dr Anban Pillay.
Pillay, who was the Acting Director-General (DG) at the time of the awarding of the contract, has been described in the SIU’s damning report as the “main actor” for his attempts to irregularly appoint the controversial media company.
The investigators have since recommended that Pillay be criminally prosecuted for financial misconduct.
The Minister said the department has concluded the review of both the internal investigation report and SIU documentation about the possible misconduct by all nine officials.
“So, now that we’ve got the documentation, action has been taken and Acting DG Dr Anban Pillay will be out of the office before the end of business day today.”
Phaahla indicated that three out of nine officials mentioned in the report were not employees of the Department of Health and worked in other government departments.
“This simply means that the National Department of Health has been able to deal directly with the disciplinary process of six officials implicated in this investigation report,” he said, adding that the number increases to seven when the department includes the already suspended DG, Dr Sandile Buthelezi.
The report has recommended that senior officials, including Buthelezi, spokesperson Popo Maja and former Chief Financial Officer Ian van der Merwe face disciplinary action for their roles in awarding the contract.
The investigators also found that former Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, allegedly pressured health officials to award the contract to his close associates.
The evidence further indicates that Mkhize’s allies, Naadhira Mitha and Tahera Mather, committed fraud as they used Digital Vibes as a “front” to hide the fact that they were tendering for the contract.
“They ‘disguised’ this, because they were close associates of the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, who was the executive authority of the National Department of Health, which was awarding the NHI media campaign contract,” said Phaahla.
The investigation also found that Mkhize and his family financially benefited from the multimillion-rand tender.
The probe also shows that the department incurred irregular expenditure amounting to about R150 million and fruitless and wasteful expenditure of a sum between R72 million and R80 million.
“We are anxious to conclude the disciplinary process as a matter of urgency to bring these matters to closure [so we can] dedicate our time, energy and resources to the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Phaahla said.
The Minister also took the opportunity to tender an apology on behalf of his department to all South Africans for the “unfortunate” saga.
“We would like to assure the public that we are going to thoroughly and decisively act to ensure nothing is swept under the carpet.”
Acting DG, Dr Nicholas Crisp, confirmed that he spoke to all involved parties over the phone and that lawyers are currently preparing the letters for precautionary suspension, pending the completion of the disciplinary hearing process and formalisation of charges.