“We got the allegations from anonymous sources and we are clear that it falls within the proclamation that deals with Covid [procurement] and we have started the process of investigating,” SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyango told The Citizen.
The investigation falls part of a proclamation signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa last year directing the SIU to probe corruption allegations linked to the procurement of personal protective equipment and services by state institutions.
According to a report by the Daily Maverick’s investigative unit, Scorpio, a little-known communications company from KwaZulu-Natal called Digital Vibes appointed Mkhize’s long-time personal spokesperson and his former private secretary as consultants to work on its projects for the department’s communication services on Covid-19.
Kganyango said the SIU received an anonymous complaint about the tender recently.
“This is an allegation that has been brought to our attention and we have started the investigation, therefore we cannot make any comment around anything at the moment until we have gathered all the facts,” he said.
Digital Vibes was initially appointed in late 2019 through a contentious closed tender to provide communications services for the government’s National Health Insurance (NHI) rollout.
When the country went into lockdown in March last year, the company’s services were reportedly extended to include communications services for Covid-19. In 2018, the company was also awarded a contract from the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) when Mkhize was its minister.
Scorpio reported that Mkhize’s long-serving personal spokesperson and alleged family friend, Tahera Mather, got consultancy jobs from Digital Vibes after it was awarded government contracts.
After Digital Vibes won the NHI contract, the company also appointed Naadhira Mitha – a former assistant private secretary in Mkhize’s office when he was Cogta minister.
“In other words, two associates of Mkhize have pocketed emergency Covid-19 cash from the DoH [Department of Health] via their consultancy work for a company appointed by the department,” the report stated.
In response to the allegations, the Department of Health denied that there was a conflict of interest and said it was investigating the claims.
Digital Vibes apparently has no website and according to company records, its business address is listed as a residential property in KwaDukuza.
The Department of Health and Mkhize both confirmed to Scorpio that Mather assisted the minister when he was treasurer-general of the ANC. They also confirmed that Mitha had worked as Mkhize’s personal assistant.
However, It was unclear how the department appointed Digital Vibes as a suitable service provider, or how the funds the company received were spent.
DA welcomes SIU probe into Digital Vibes
Meanwhile, DA MP and spokesperson on health, Siviwe Gwarube welcomed the investigation by the SIU.
“We think that this is absolutely the correct course of action. We have seen corruption around Covid-19 spending spiral out of control and reach crisis level and the president has committed himself that those who have been found guilty of wrongdoing must be held accountable,” Gwarube told The Citizen.
Gwarube said the DA will write to President Cyril Ramaphosa urging him to ensure that the investigation is conducted in an objective and transparent manner.
“Because ultimately this is a minister who is leading the government’s Covid-19 response. It is absolutely important that the president does give assurance that the law enforcement agencies and the SIU are empowered to conduct an objective and transparent investigation into this in spite of the seniority of the person in question.”
Asked whether Mkhize should be suspended while the investigation continued, she said: “I think it’s quite important that these allegations be looked into and be disproven or proven. Whatever the findings of that, then he must go should he be found guilty of wrongdoing or having an instrumental part in the irregular awarding of this contract.”