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Bring on the criminal charges, say opposition parties after damning Digital Vibes report released

DA says health minister Joe Phaahla must act swiftly in axing implicated officials

29 September 2021 - 17:36
Opposition parties have called on health minister Dr Joe Phaahla to act with speed against senior officials identified in the SIU report. File photo.
Opposition parties have called on health minister Dr Joe Phaahla to act with speed against senior officials identified in the SIU report. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

The release of the SIU’s damning report into the R150m Digital Vibes tender must immediately lead to criminal investigations against those implicated, opposition parties said on Wednesday. 

This as they slammed President Cyril Ramaphosa for dragging his feet in releasing the report, which he received three months ago.  

The 114-page report has revealed gross misconduct on the part of former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, his family members, senior health officials, as well as the minister's associates.

DA shadow minister of health Siviwe Gwarube said the report was long overdue and called on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to pursue criminal investigation against those she called the “Digital Vibes 4”: Mkhize, health department director-general Dr Sandile Buthelezi, deputy director-general Dr Anban Pillay and department CFO Ian Van Der Merwe.

“We are of the view that criminal investigation must now begin against those we call the 'Digital Vibes 4'. It is absolutely critical that Mkhize is investigated without further delay, because, as the SIU report states, there are a number of matters the minister must answer for,” she said.

The party, which had previously opened a criminal case against Mkhize for his involvement in the saga, said it would not let the matter go. 

“With nearly 90,000 people having lost their lives to Covid-19, it is unthinkable that the very people in the department of health who were meant to be rolling out the assistance, the healthcare, were the people who were looting public money,” said Gwarube. 

IFP deputy president Inkosi Mzamo Buthelezi welcomed the report but slammed its late release, saying: “We have waited far too long for this.”

He called for swift action in instituting criminal charges, and said the saga had far-reaching consequences for transparency and accountability in the public service.

“We believe that these revelations are merely the tip of the iceberg, which has now been exposed thanks to the SIU’s investigation, and we welcome the SIU’s commitment to further investigations.

“We also believe that this type of fraud and financial mismanagement is widespread across government departments,” said Buthelezi.

FF Plus MP Philip van Staden slammed Ramaphosa for “dragging his heels for so long” and questioned the rationale behind his timing of the report's release.

“The only logical explanation for dragging heels in releasing such damning information is to afford those implicated an opportunity to cover their tracks.

“Since President Ramaphosa received the SIU report, there have apparently been no new developments in the case and that makes it even harder to understand why he kept it so close to his chest for nearly four months.

“The scandal has now finally been exposed and action must be taken against those implicated at once. Decisive action leading to prosecution must be taken. The guilty ones must go to jail, including the former minister of health,” said Van Staden. 

GOOD's Karabo Tledima called for arrests to be made and said the report was a necessary step towards rooting out corruption in public institutions.

“It is essential for the stamping out of corruption that there is complete transparency.  There should be no place to hide for those who concoct corrupt schemes which defraud the public purse and the publication of the report shines the light directly on those who need to be shamed,” said Tledima.

Al Jama-ah’s Ganief Hendricks said the report was devastating, given the impact of Covid-19, saying lives could have been saved.

“PPE was important to help save lives of many people who died or were hospitalised or in quarantine, but because a cabinet minister meddled in administrative affairs of the department of health it was not the case. Poor oversight by cabinet of its members means that every member must now fall on their swords,” he said.

The DA also wants parliament's portfolio committee on health, which is now on recess, to reconvene and receive an update from health minister Dr Joe Phaahla, as well as the SIU. 

The chairperson of committee, Dr Kenneth Jacobs, welcomed the SIU report and said he would request permission to convene a meeting with the health ministry.

“We welcome the report and the committee is looking forward to its engagements with the department of health on the matter. The committee will, among other things, hear the department’s plan of action following the release of the report.”

The DA wants Phaahla to axe the implicated officials.

“He needs to act with pace. The reality is that now there are three senior members implicated in the report. It cannot be that those very people are still sitting in those positions,” the party said.

“There needs to be an urgent removal of those people pending an investigation, so that we can be sure that we start to clean out the rot that has set in the senior management of the department of health.”