On the back of the disciplinary process of three senior national health department officials for their role in the controversial Digital Vibes communications contract, former minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says the outcome supports his long-held view that there was no interference from anyone, least of all him, in the awarding of the R150 million tender.
Dr Mkhize’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mkhize, said in a statement on Tuesday that the internal disciplinary committee [DC] proceedings in the health department had revealed “zero evidence implicating [Dr Mkhize] or anyone acting at his behest, in any interference – whether improper, criminal or otherwise – with the [government] procurement process”.
There was also “zero evidence that the officials who were overseeing this procurement process colluded with anyone or committed any acts of fraud or corruption in relation to this process,” Mkhize said, adding that the proceedings could also not unearth “any evidence that anyone, least of all [Dr Mkhize], ever exerted any undue pressure on these officials to act in a particular way”.
Mkhize said the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings raised two key questions:
If the department of health did not unearth any evidence implicating these officials, or any of their superiors, in improper and/or criminal conduct, how is the SIU [Special Investigating Unit] hoping to ever sustain its finding that Dr Mkhize may be guilty of same?
Secondly, he said: “On what lawful or rational basis are those who are clamouring for the Hawks to arrest Dr Mkhize expecting the crime-fighting unit to do this?”
The SIU had found that he may have acted in an improper and criminal manner by, supposedly, among other things, “interfering in the affairs of the department”, according to Dr Mkhize’s founding affidavit in the court application last October, seeking to overturn the SIU’s conclusion into the tender as it related to him.
In the affidavit, he stated that “after deliberations with [President Cyril Ramaphosa], while adamant that the SIU’s findings as to what I ‘may’ have done were unfounded and unfair and themselves unlawfully arrived at, I decided to resign my position as minister of health”.
On Tuesday, the chairperson of the disciplinary proceedings in the health department, Advocate Pule Seleka, confirmed as the final sanctions the recommendations made to him by the department on July 8 through the office of the state attorney.
In terms of the final sanctions, suspended health department spokesperson Popo Maja and deputy director-general of health regulation and compliance Anban Pillay were to be demoted from their posts for a year. The third official who had signed the Digital Vibes agreement, Shireen Pardesi, already had an agreed sanction.
In the findings of the disciplinary proceedings, Dr Mkhize – who resigned from the portfolio in August – was mentioned only three times in Pillay’s testimony, and none of the charged officials had implicated him. He was cited as having approved two work plans – one in January 2020 and another in June of that year.
On Tuesday, Mkhize said the outcome of the proceedings resonated with the minister’s submission in court that the SIU’s findings related to him ought to be declared “unlawful and invalid” because there was no evidence that he “may have improperly and criminally interfered with [the tender]”.