No need for me to step aside, says Mkhize as SIU probes company with links to his associates

10 March 2021 - 19:13
By amanda khoza AND Amanda Khoza
Health minister Zweli Mkhize says he won't step aside while the SIU investigates an R82m tender.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux Health minister Zweli Mkhize says he won't step aside while the SIU investigates an R82m tender.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize says he does not believe it is necessary for him to step aside while the Special Investigating Unit probes an R82m tender issued to a company linked to his associates.

“We will be co-operating with the investigation and, in this regard, we believe that the process is secure enough in the hands of those investigators that no further steps are necessary — and that, of course, we will only deal with the outcome of the investigations when it is released,” said Mkhize.

He was responding to an oral question and answer session in parliament on Wednesday.

Mkhize said that once the investigation was completed, the findings would be made public.

Daily Maverick broke the story of how Digital Vibes had been appointed in 2019 through a closed tender to provide communication services for the government’s National Health Insurance (NHI) rollout, with the scope of the work extended in March 2020 to include communications services for Covid-19.

The contract is worth R82m, and is now subject to a SIU investigation.

According to the publication, Digital Vibes won the tender irregularly and later employed Tahera Mather, a long-serving spokesperson and alleged family friend of Mkhize, as a consultant.

It said the company also appointed a former assistant to the minister, Naadhira Mitha.

The same company, the publication reported, had scored a tender while Mkhize was minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs.

The step aside question was asked in context of the ANC’s “step aside” rule, yet to be finalised, which seeks to have leaders charged with serious crimes — such as party secretary-general Ace Magashule — vacate their positions until they are cleared.

DA MP Siviwe Gwarube said to Mkhize: “Recently you have also been implicated in a dubious contract worth R82m, which is under investigation and has now been halted. There are damning allegations against you and your involvement in the awarding of this contract to people who are close associates of yours, which could result in a conflict of interest.

“Considering the serious nature of the these allegations and the contract awarded to your friends by the department —  would you be prepared to step aside as your party’s own policy states for the duration of the SIU investigation to ensure that there is no undue political influence in this process?”

Mkhize responded by saying the department took the allegations very seriously.

“A number of issues were brought to my attention by the director-general that required that we should get the investigation going. We then indicated that it was more preferable to get an outside investigation or independent investigation, which is going on.

“In addition, the SIU has indicated that they would be interested in the investigation and so we have written to the SIU together with the director-general and we have been co-operated with the process,” he said.

Mkhize added that the government needed to continue fighting corruption.

Last week the department’s director-general, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, told parliament that a few contracts that the department had been working with were flagged by the auditor-general, including the Digital Vibes contract.

Buthelezi said he had received the first report which had been done by an audit firm.

“We have shared this information with the SIU in terms of the work that we have been doing. We have actually linked the SIU with the auditing firm that is dealing with Digital Vibes. I have been in constant communication with them and they are working with the SIU. We do not want to pre-empt that investigation,” he said.