Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla on Thursday unreservedly apologised to all South Africans for the dodgy R150 million Digital Vibes contract the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) found to have directly benefited former health minister Zweli Mkhize, his family members and close associates.
Phaahla gave assurances the Department of Health would decisively act against officials implicated in the SIU’s report and said nothing would swept under the carpet.
“I would like to unreservedly tender our public apology to all South Africans for this very unfortunate and really devastating saga in terms of the confidence of the people in our institutions,” Phaahla said.
The minister was speaking during a media briefing in Pretoria, a day after President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the release of the SIU’s report to the public.
The report made damning findings against the health department’s officials, including Mkhize, who according to the SIU, interfered in the administrative authority of the department, which led to Digital Vibes winning the contract.
This resulted in irregular expenditure amounting to approximately R150 million and fruitless and wasteful expenditure ranging between R72 billion and R80 million.
Report’s impact on Department of Health
Phaahla said he acknowledged the impact of the SIU’s findings on the health department’s public image and its ability to provide quality healthcare services.
“It’s not just a question of image but it’s really done a devastating impact on our own capacity,” he said.
“As you can imagine, we were just at the tail end of this [Covid-19] third wave and looking forward to how we can stabilise the health system… the last thing that we really need is a distraction from that by this kind of situation.”
On reports that 18 people, including the department’s former acting director-general (DG) Anban Pillay, had been referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for prosecution, Phaahla said he was not aware of this.
He said in total nine officials were implicated in the SIU report, including the department’s suspended DG Dr Sandile Buthelezi. Three of the nine officials no longer worked for the health department.
Phaahla assured the country his department was committed to studying the report’s findings and recommendations fully.
“The SIU has done a lot of work already and we have the report. I don’t think this is going to be long, It’s probably a matter of days and then the matters would be finalised,” Phaahla said.
He said they would act on the outcomes of the formal disciplinary processes without fear, favour and prejudice.
“We are also committed to clean governance, and despite how uncomfortable the report may appear, it will help us tighten controls and ethical practice.
“We take seriously the evidence gathered by the SIU and have noted the view that there may be scope for criminal charges, though we are also mindful that further investigation needs to unfold before persons are declared guilty by our courts.”