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Presidency has asked SIU for more info on Digital Vibes, Scopa hears

06 July 2021 - 12:07 By amanda khoza
Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa has lambasted the presidency for not appearing to update parliament about its SIU investigations. File photo.
Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa has lambasted the presidency for not appearing to update parliament about its SIU investigations. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images / Beeld / Lerato Maduna

The standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday told parliament the presidency has asked the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to provide further information on its Digital Vibes investigation.

“The SIU sent correspondence that it handed its report to the presidency on June 30, and additional information was requested on July 2. They are not in a position to deal with the matter [in the committee] until it is finalised,” said Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa.

Scopa was on Tuesday morning expected to receive an update from the presidency on all its reports, including the SIU’s investigation into Digital Vibes and the status of the suspended public works director-general (DG), advocate Sam Vukela.

The SIU is probing the irregular awarding of a R150m tender to close associates of health minister Zweli Mkhize, who has been placed on special leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Hlengwa lambasted the presidency’s acting minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni for not attending the meeting. She is locked in a national coronavirus command council (NCCC) meeting on Tuesday.

“I sent correspondence through to the acting minister in the presidency on June 24. Yesterday I received correspondence from the acting minister indicating that in their view, the SIU is best placed to brief the committee on these matters as they are merely the recipients of the reports.”

Hlengwa said he was of the view the presidency, insofar as the processing of the reports is concerned, is responsible to account to the committee because that is where the reports are submitted.

“The SIU cannot be a player and a referee in its own investigative processes. This morning I received correspondence again from the minister indicating two things — leave of absence from this meeting and that she will be attending the NCCC meeting.”

He said she signalled “they are not in a position in any case to speak about the personal protective equipment (PPE) reports the SIU are giving them because those are updates and not the final reports. Upon the finalisation of these reports, they will be able to engage with the committee.”

Ntshavheni was also expected to brief the committee on the suspended director-general of public works, who is undergoing disciplinary processes for, among other matters, the Beitbridge border post scandal.

“There were 12 officials who needed to be disciplined and the DG was the 13th. That matter was escalated to the relevant ministry and the presidency because that is where DGs are handled. The correspondence talks to the matter being taken to court.

“The presidency is not here. The acting minister has tabled an apology.”

Ntshavheni told TimesLIVE: “The two items Scopa wanted from the presidency are on the DG of public works, which is in court, and the SIU PPE investigations. There is no final report which has been issued. Therefore there is nothing I can report beyond the explanations provided in our correspondences to the Scopa.”

Furthermore, Ntshavheni said she was currently locked in a NCCC meeting which was managing the third wave of Covid-19 infections in the country.

“I am not only a spokesperson for cabinet but also for the interministerial committee on vaccines. In addition, I am responsible for monitoring the work on vaccines and co-ordinating government communication on the responses. The managing of the third wave is most important for the country,” she said.  

Hlengwa accepted the apology with caution because “the committee always tries its level best to be understanding, accommodating and flexible”.

“But parliament’s time also has to be respected and it places us in a very difficult and very unfair position when, at the last minute, we have to manoeuvre on discussions that could have been held prior.”

He maintained the matter could have been handled differently.