SIU strikes at Digital Vibes corruption scandal


The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) “is poised to strike against corruption” – and so far is hitting its target.

The Digital Vibes report prepared by the SIU and submitted to President Cyril Ramaphosa on July 23 has been publicly released and can be viewed here.

The SIU launched its investigation into Digital Vibes and former minister of health Dr Zweli Mkhize after receiving allegations from a whistleblower regarding potential irregularities in the award by the National Department of Health (NDOH) of the National Health Insurance (NHI) and Covid-19 media campaigns.

Read:

Findings

The SIU found that the procurement processes in respect of the NHI and Covid-19 media campaigns were irregular and the subsequent contracts are void. This resulted in irregular expenditure amounting to approximately R150 million, and fruitless and wasteful expenditure amounting to approximately R80 million, having been incurred by the NDOH.

The SIU has obtained evidence to support its contentions that:

  • Mkhize improperly and possibly unlawfully gave instructions to the then director-general (DG) of the NDOH Precious Matsoso to appoint Tahera Mather as a “communication expert consultant for the NDOH in respect of the envisaged NHI media campaign”. The minister sent repeated WhatsApp messages to the DG. This “an interference by the Executive Authority in the affairs of the administrative authority of the NDOH”.
  • Digital Vibes was appointed on November 29, 2019, and then “’appointed’ Mather and [her niece Naadhira] Mitha as purported contractors for purposes of the NHI media campaign”.
  • Mkhize approved a R46 million media campaign 52 days after the service level agreement (SLA) between the NDOH and Digital Vibes had been signed, and approved another R85 million six months after the SLA had been signed.
  • It “can be argued that the Minister deliberately ignored a Cabinet decision (of which he formed part of)”, in appointing Digital Vibes.
  • Dr Anban Pillay, acting DG of the NDOH, should be prosecuted for financial misconduct. Evidence also indicates that he committed fraud in making “numerous material intentional misrepresentations to the National Treasury”, among others.
  • “Ms Mather and Ms Mitha committed fraud in that they held out to the NDOH that Digital Vibes was tendering for the NHI media campaign contract, whereas in fact, Ms Mather and Ms Mitha used Digital Vibes as a front” to hide the fact that they were behind it.
  • “Digital Vibes (‘owned’ by Radha Hariram) and Hariram (in her personal capacity) committed fraud” in that Digital Vibes was a front for Mather and Mitha.
  • Digital Vibes, Hariram, Mather and Mitha contravened the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (Poca) money laundering provisions.
  • “Digital Vibes failed to declare and pay company tax and failed to pay the required VAT to the South African Revenue Service”.
  • Digital Vibes “paid an amount of R6 720 for repairs at a property belonging to the Minister”; “transferred R300 000 … to a company belonging to the Minister’s son [Dedani Mkhize]”; purchased a second-hand motor vehicle for R160 000 for the Minister’s son; and via electronic transfers to conduit parties paid “significant amounts of cash” to the Minister’s son. Hariram would collect “boxes of cash from a person” and the Minister’s son “would collect boxes [of cash] from her”.
  • Evidence obtained supports “the referral thereof to the President for purposes of taking executive action against the Minister”, and “the institution of disciplinary action against officials in the NDOH” – namely Pillay, Popo Maja (head of communications), Shireen Pardesi (chief of staff), Dr Sandile Buthelezi (recently suspended DG), Senzeni Ngubane (member of the technical evaluation committee or TEC), Khubane Ngobese (clerk in the department and personal assistant to Pardesi), Reginald Ngcobo (TEC member) and Ian van Der Merwe (CFO). The SIU report itemises all the irregularities/offences/misdemeanours committed by these officials. The executive action against Mkhize is now moot, as he has resigned.

Digital Vibes should be “blacklisted from conducting business with the public sector”.

Mather and Mitha refused to answer questions

Mather and Mitha were subpoenaed under the SIU Act “to be questioned regarding their involvement in the NHI and Covid-19 media campaign related matters”.

Their legal representative said they “would refuse to answer any questions, based on their Constitutional right against self-incrimination”.

The lawyer also indicated that Mather and Mitha intended to challenge the constitutionality of Section 5(2)(b)&(c) of the SIU Act in the high court

However, they have since “indicated that they would now be prepared to be questioned”.

Limitations

The SIU does caution that the report “is based on facts established from documentation that was provided and/or information that was obtained during the course of the investigation”, and it cannot guarantee that it has been provided with all relevant information and/or has had sights of all relevant documentation that may be in existence; and/or any statements or information and/or the contents of any documentation at its disposal, is/are true and correct”.

And now? Now we wait …

The SIU contends that Mkhize’s denial that he and his family had benefitted from the Digital Vibes contract at a press briefing held on May 26, 2021 is “untrue”, “as the minister’s son and the minister himself (via property belonging to him) “had directly benefitted from Digital Vibes, who in turn had benefitted from the NDOH contracts”.

Citizens will now have to wait for the judicial process to play out. The investigation into criminal liability is ongoing.

Corruption during a pandemic and stealing money that should have been used to save lives is abominable. That members of the medical profession allegedly took part is incomprehensible. If found guilty, Mkhize and his corrupt medical cadres have ripped apart the Hippocratic Oath.



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