'Evidence pointing to criminal action' - SIU says Mkhize can still be charged for Digital Vibes saga

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Zweli Mkhize.
Zweli Mkhize.
Sharon Seretlo, Gallo Images
  • Former health minister Zweli Mkhize could still be criminally charged for his role in the awarding of a Digital Vibes communications contract..
  • Under Mkhize, the health department awarded the R150 million contract to Digital Vibes for a National Health Insurance (NHI) communications campaign.
  • Mkhize, who has close links with Digital Vibes owners, reportedly pressured officials to appoint the company.

Disgraced former health minister Zweli Mkhize may have resigned, but he can still be criminally charged for his role in the health department's awarding of a R150 million communications contract to Digital Vibes - a company he is closely linked to.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) says Mkhize may have committed acts of criminality and caused irregular and wasteful expenditure by approving budgets for the contract.

READ | Digital Vibes scored R35m before health dept even approved their work, committee hears

This emerged on Wednesday when the unit briefed the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on the contract.

According to a presentation by SIU head, advocate Andy Mothibe, the allegations against Mkhize relate to his failure to execute his function in compliance with the Constitution.

Mothibe added: 

His resignation will not affect our investigation. There are still allegations that are coming in and we are looking at that. Should evidence come our way, we will continue to look at that. The statement that says 'may have committed criminal acts', we say so because we have found evidence pointing to criminal action. That evidence was then referred to the National Prosecuting [Authority]. All of those 19 referrals will be evaluated, and we are hoping that those charges will be sustained.

Mothibe said action would be taken "very soon".

Mkhize also allegedly failed in his general oversight responsibilities in respect of the affairs of the department and his obligations in terms of Section 63 of the Public Finance Management Act.

Other allegations include:

  • causing irregular and fruitless and wasteful expenditure to be incurred;
  • committing acts of criminality;
  • possible conflicts of interest in the appointment of Digital Vibes;
  • negligence in approving budgets in respect of the National Health Insurance and Covid-19 media campaigns; and
  • possibly acting contrary to a relevant Cabinet decision.

The department initially contracted Digital Vibes for the National Health Insurance (NHI) campaign in 2019, which was when Mkhize reportedly pressured officials to appoint the agency for the contract. The work was expanded to include communications on Covid-19.

The firm scored a cool R35 million before the department approved its work.

Both the tender and the bidding process allegedly contravened the Public Finance Management Act.

In relation to Covid-19 work, it is alleged that Digital Vibes received requests for work from the department before its contract was expanded to include Covid-19 work.

READ HERE | SIU secures order to freeze R22m in bank accounts linked to Digital Vibes

Requests resulted in a financial commitment of approximately R35 million that the department ended up paying after the expansion was approved.

Mothibi also touched on witnesses' safety in the aftermath of the murder of Gauteng health department acting chief financial officer, Babita Deokaran.

Deokaran was gunned down outside her home after dropping her daughter at school.

She was one of the SIU witnesses in the R300 million protective personal equipment (PPE) tender fraud investigation in the Gauteng health department.

"We are pleased that the police has acted swiftly. We look forward to the investigation continuing. The Minister of Police has already indicated that we need to know who these masterminds are. We want to assure you, working together with other law enforcement agencies, we take the safety of witnesses very seriously. Our cases stand or fall by the witnesses that we have," Mothibi said.

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