The Department of Health has pleaded for more time to respond to allegations that close associates of Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and other third parties pocketed around R90 million in questionable payments.

’’The non-response to various media queries by the department and the minister is out of ensuring that there is no interference with the ongoing investigations,’’ the department said in a statement on Monday.

’’At this stage we can only confirm that the decision for the investigation to be conducted externally by entities with the necessary capacity was important as it has unveiled some glaring irregularities that will certainly have to be responded to/action taken against.’’

The former personal spokesperson and a long-time friend of Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, Tahera Mather, and Mkhize’s former personal assistant, Naadhira Mitha – communications strategists during the minister’s so-called ANC #Unity campaign in 2017 – are at the centre of the storm linked to Digital Vibes’ R150 million Covid-19 and National Health Insurance (NHI) communications contract.

It is alleged that Digital Vibes even charged the Department of Health millions of rand for scheduling Mkhize’s media briefings, interviews and other public engagements related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Digital Vibes also allegedly also submitted hugely inflated bills for NHI-related projects.

Former DA leader Musi Maimane posted on Twitter today: ’’This is capture. There is no sugar coating. #DigitalVibes is no different to #Bosasa or #Trillian.

’’A private company was being paid millions for public health announcements. This could all have been done in-house. Since when does it cost R3.5 million to log onto Zoom.’’

The company charged the DoH millions of rand for “setting up” Mkhize’s media briefings, interviews and other public engagements regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

The department’ full statement read: ’’We have received various media queries regarding the communications contract awarded to Digital Vibes.

’’In February, the minister made a public commitment that as soon as a final report is available, the outcomes, findings and recommendations thereof will be shared with members of the public.

’’We wish to assure you that that commitment remains. We are also confident that the SIU continues to follow its investigation process as proclaimed.

’’The non-response to various media queries by the department and the Minister is out of ensuring that there is no interference with the ongoing investigations and all the necessary information and documents is shared with the investigators.

’’Interviews have been held with affected parties, various actions to uncover the details into the allegations have already been embarked on. At this stage we can only confirm that the decision for the investigation to be conducted externally by entities with the necessary capacity was important as it has unveiled some glaring irregularities that will certainly have to be responded to/ action taken against.

’’We however wish to plead with the media and members of the public that the department be given more time. It would not at all serve much of a purpose if allegations that are under investigation are responded to publicly and not through an already established formal investigative process that will lead to proper legal recourse/action being taken.’’

It is alleged about R90 million was channelled to entities set up by Mather and Mitha, to businesses and personal accounts of Mather’s immediate family, and to other suspicious third parties, including the late AmaBhaca King Madzikane II Diko’s Royal Bhaca Projects.

Only about R40 million went towards recipients identified as legitimate service providers and other costs related to the department’s contract. Around R20 million is still to be accounted for.

Mkhize, who had Mather and Mitha at his side as communications strategists during his so-called ANC #Unity campaign in 2017, appears to have been a key figure in Digital Vibes’ alleged scheme.

Digital Vibes even got paid for “coordinating” Mkhize’s announcement of the second wave of coronavirus infections on SABC news in December last year, a task that would normally fall to the department’s own communications officials.

In March the Department of Health said that apart from KwaZulu-Natal-based Digital Vibes, there are two other companies whose contracts are under investigation by the Special Investigating Unit

In February, Mkhize welcomed a probe into the reports that a family friend and a former secretary had scored millions of rand in tender contracts from his department.

Editor@tech-talk.co.za

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