Suspension letters to be served: health minister Joe Phaahla on Digital Vibes

30 September 2021 - 12:00
Health minister Joe Phaahla. File photo.
Health minister Joe Phaahla. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

Health minister Joe Phaahla has assured the nation that by the end of business on Thursday, six officials implicated in the Digital Vibes scandal will be served with suspension letters.

“By the close of business today, all affected six officials in the Department of Health would be served with suspension letters pending the completion of disciplinary hearing processes and formalisation of charges. The outstanding disciplinary investigations will require the investigators communicating with the [Special Investigating Unit] SIU and with a procurement specialist,” said Phaahla.

The precautionary suspension letters are already prepared, it was just a matter of handing them out, said Phaahla. The minister said the full SIU report was only made available to the department on Wednesday.

The precautionary suspension letters are already prepared, it was just a matter of handing them out, said Phaahla.

“The number of suspended officials by the end of today will be seven because DG Sandile Buthelezi has also been placed on suspension,” said Phaahla.

Phaahla was addressing the media on the findings and recommendations contained in the SIU's report on its probe into the Department of Health’s awarding of a National Health Insurance (NHI) tender and subsequent Covid-19 communications tender to Digital Vibes.

The SIU report on the health department's controversial R150m communications tender was submitted to President Cyril Ramaphosa in June.

Ramaphosa released it on Wednesday amid public pressure to do so, after sitting on it for months.

TimesLIVE reported on Wednesday that the SIU had found former health minister Zweli Mkhize acted unlawfully, misleading Ramaphosa and the nation, when he awarded the controversial tender to his associates Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha who “under the guise of Digital Vibes, were unlawfully and irregularly appointed by the [department] in respect of the NHI and Covid-19 media campaigns”.

The report also found Mkhize’s family members, including his son, Dedani, his former associates and/or family members of such former associates, benefited unduly from the tender. It found Mkhize “failed to declare any such actual or potential conflicts of interest to the presidency”, and it was recommended that Ramaphosa take executive action against the former minister.

The SIU said: “At best this conduct on the part of the minister was improper, and at worst the conduct of the minister was unlawful.”

The SIU also placed former health department acting director-general Dr Anban Pillay at the centre of the Digital Vibes tender scandal, recommending he be criminally prosecuted.

Among other things, the SIU found the procurement processes in the NHI and Covid-19 media campaigns were irregular, leading to irregular expenditure of about R150m and wasteful expenditure of R72m to R80m being incurred by the national health department. Allegations against Mkhize were first made public in the Daily Maverick in February.

The report also found that other senior officials of the department, such as DG Buthelezi and spokesperson Popo Maja, should face disciplinary action for their roles in the saga. Buthelezi was suspended on Sunday.