Step down, DA tells Zweli Mkhize over 'looting' of funds under his watch

26 May 2021 - 14:36 By TimesLIVE
Health minister Zweli Mkhize has been urged by the DA to step down. File photo.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize has been urged by the DA to step down. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times

The DA wants health minister Zweli Mkhize to step down from his position over an irregular multimillion-rand Covid-19 communications tender awarded by his department to a company owned by his close associates.

This comes after Mkhize announced on Wednesday that a forensic investigation had found the R150m communications contract with Digital Vibes was awarded irregularly and in breach of the Public Finance Management Act.

Digital Vibes is owned by Mkhize's long-serving personal spokesperson Tahera Mather and former personal assistant Naadira Mitha, who worked for him from his time in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government and during his tenure as the treasurer-general of the ANC.

The contract raised eyebrows as most of the services provided by Digital Vibes, such as co-ordinating Covid-19 press conferences, are handled by staff employed by the health department.

Siviwe Gwarube, the DA spokesperson and MP serving in parliament's portfolio committee on health, said it was untenable for Mkhize to remain in his position while the “looting” of public funds needed to fight Covid-19 happened under his watch.

Below is Gwarube's full statement:

“This morning, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has confirmed that the reports which have been exposed by the Daily Maverick over the past months are accurate: the awarding of the Digital Vibes contract by the department of health was irregular, as confirmed by the auditor-general.

“This R150m dubious contract was allegedly awarded to close associates of Dr Mkhize to provide communication services to him over the past year. This is despite the fact that many of these services should be provided by the department and his ministry staff. The auditor-general flagged irregularities including a possible conflict of interest with this contract.

“It is now clear that this looting of public money has happened under the leadership of Dr Mkhize while there is a glaring conflict of interest. It cannot be that the very person entrusted with the Covid-19 response in the country is embroiled in this kind of scandal involving public money.

“Minister Mkhize should step down pending a full Special Investigating Unit (SIU) investigation.

It cannot be that the very person entrusted with the Covid-19 response in the country is embroiled in this kind of scandal.
Siviwe Gwarube, DA spokesperson

“The minister cannot be both the player and referee in an investigation that involves him directly. He must step down to allow the independent investigation to take its course and for President Cyril Ramaphosa to give an update on who will be criminally charged and held accountable.

“The DA has also called for President Ramaphosa to expand the scope of the SIU investigation to include the new information which has come to light. The internal departmental investigation is wholly inadequate and more work needs to be done to uncover the true extent of the rot in this scandal.

“SA is in the middle of a deadly pandemic. A fraction of the population is yet to receive their vaccines with the system buckling under pressure very early in the process. We need a political head who is beyond reproach. It is clear that minister Mkhize is no such leader and should be removed while this matter is dealt with without undue influence.”

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