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Heat ramps up for Ramaphosa and ANC

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The heat is on for President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC following damning findings against former health minister Zweli Mkhize by the SIU.

Last night, Ramaphosa steered clear of speaking directly on the matter relating to the role that Mkhize had played while heading up the Health Department, except to say in his statement that the report released by the SIU was done in the interest of fairness and in promotion of the Access to Information Act.

Ramaphosa was speaking at a round-table discussion and live broadcast with the media.

The president said “a line has been drawn in the sand” against corruption and that the ANC was ready to serve “people with integrity”.

He also said despite the damning findings against Mkhize, the ex-minister had “served the nation well” and that he had fought the pandemic well.

Asked why it had taken time for him to release the report, Ramaphosa said: Part of process is that we needed to inform those who had been implicated…“

He further said when he accepted Mkhize’s resignation, that was a clear indication of where he stood on the matter.

During his tenure at the national department of health, it emerged that the department had unlawfully awarded a R150 million contract to Digital Vibes, which was used as a front by his Mkhize’s close associates, Tahera Mather and Naadira Mitha.

The SIU said it had obtained evidence that the department initially attempted to appoint Mather as a communication expert consultant for the envisaged National Health Insurance (NHI) media campaign.

The corruption-busting body also said Mkhize had sent a WhatsApp message to then director-general Malebona Matsoso asking her to “kindly sort out contractual arrangements”.

“Although the ex-minister indicated to the SIU that the aforementioned WhatsApp message related to the NHI media campaign in general, and not to individuals, the only reasonable inference in the circumstances is that the communication from the former minister was referring to an envisaged contract with Ms Mather.”

The report also said Mkhize allegedly already referred to “contractual arrangements” regarding the “preliminary NHI implementation plan and draft communication plan by Friday from each individual”, though no procurement processes had been initiated by the department.

The SIU maintained it was apparent from the contents of the WhatsApp message that Mkhize was giving instructions to Matsoso.

“At best, this conduct on the part of the ex-minister was improper and at worst, the conduct was unlawful, as it constituted an interference by the executive authority in the affairs of the administrative authority of the NDOH.”

The corruption-busting body further stated that R150m in irregular expenditure and fruitless and wasteful expenditure amounting to between R72m and R80m was incurred by the department.

The report also said that Digital Vibes had “appointed” Mather and Mitha as purported contractors for purposes of the NHI media campaign.

But it was found that the pair used Digital Vibes as a front in order to hide the fact that they were tendering for the contract, and “disguised” the fact that they were close associates of Mkhize.

Digital Vibes and its owner, Radha Hariram, allegedly committed fraud in that they pretended that the company was tendering for the NHI media campaign contract, whereas they were fronting for Mather and Mitha.

The report said Mkhize approved the first budget allocation for the NHI media campaign, which approval specifically mentioned that the services would be rendered by Digital Vibes.

Even with the SIU’s report being officially released to the public and having sat with the president for a while, law enforcement agencies are not yet ready to swoop on those found wanting.

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation yesterday said it was too soon to make any arrests in the Digital Vibes scandal.

Furthermore, the National Prosecuting Authority says it is waiting for the Hawks to conduct a probe before dealing with prosecutions on the matter.

“The report is with the Hawks, they are investigating the matter. We sent it to them upon receiving it from the SIU, because, remember, it is not ready for prosecution.

’’The matters that come from the SIU and referrals are not necessarily ready for prosecution; they still need investigations,” NPA national spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said.

Meanwhile, there are growing calls by political parties for criminal charges to be laid against Mkhize as well as implicated officials, who include the Department’s director-general, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, Dr Anban Pillay as well as head of communication Popo Maja.

DA health spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube said the SIU report into Digital Vibes showed the depth of corruption in the governing party – present in all fields and spheres of government.

Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloem said his party suspects that Ramaphosa allegedly tried to “panel beat the report”.

“We want all those fingered in the report to be criminally charged, from the former minister Dr Zweli Mkhize to the lowest officials in the health department. We want law enforcement agencies to act and arrest all those who were involved in corruption and fraud,” he said.

Weighing in on the matter, political analyst Sipho Seepe said the report was raising issues around Ramaphosa’s commitment to transparency.

For Seepe, the issue was whether Ramaphosa was committed to transparency in releasing information to the public.

“Is he selective?” Seepe asked.

Seepe also said Ramaphosa had made public the Digital Vibes report, yet he had not done so with information relating to the funding of his presidential campaign in the ANC.

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