Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday denied any personal friendship between himself and the controllers of the communications company, Digital Vibes, which received R150-million in irregular Covid-19 and National Health Insurance tenders.
Mkhize also denied benefiting in any way from the contracts.
Tahera Mather, reported as being a former personal spokesperson to Mkhize, which he has denied, and the minister’s former personal assistant, Naadhira Mitha, are alleged to have personally benefited from the contracts.
The minister said during the media briefing that the company was responsible for, among other things, setting up his interviews and media briefings in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
The R150-million payment was spread out between March 2020 and February 2021.
Mkhize said a forensic investigation initiated by the department of health showed that the tender and bidding process for the contract was in contravention of the Public Finances Management Act (PFMA).
The report had been handed to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the president on Tuesday, he said.
“Irregularities include inconsistencies in the bid committees to a lack of disclosure of conflict of interest.”
It had been found that an amount of R35-million paid to the company “constituted fruitless and wasteful expenditure”, said Mkhize.
He said legal actions were underway which meant “we cannot fully disclose the details of the report at this stage” because “detailed disclosure” could jeopardise remedial action.
The minister said he did not consider Mather and Mitha as friends, as the media has reported, but as “comrades”.
“Mitha was working in my office as a personal assistant in Pretoria. She resigned because the toll of travelling between Pretoria and Cape Town including some international travel was affecting her personal life. At no point did she mention that she will join a company that is applying for a government tender.
He worked with Mather at Luthuli House while he was still the ANC’s treasurer general and was part of the communications team.
“I also never participated in the award process of tenders,” he said. “If there is evidence that funds were awarded irregularly and without following the proper procedures, I give permission for those monies to be recovered [by the department].”
The department’s director general, Sandile Buthelezi, said during the same briefing that the department was instituting disciplinary action against implicated officials.
“[W]e will leave no stone unturned on this matter. Consequence management will be applied. A senior counsel has already been appointed to recover some of the money spent,” he said.