Molefe Seeletsa
Digital Journalist
3 minute read
5 Aug 2021
12:37 pm

Mkhize can’t account for Digital Vibes while on special leave, says ANC MP

Molefe Seeletsa

Parliament's portfolio committee on health will only get to a chance to interrogate Mkhize once his special leave ends.

Former Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize. Picture: Gallo Images/Alet Pretorius

Parliament says it cannot summon Health Minister Zweli Mkhize to account for the R150 million Digital Vibes contract while he is on special leave.

In June, Mkhize was due to appear before the Parliament’s health portfolio committee amid the ongoing Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe into the irregular contract awarded to the communications firm by the national Department of Health.

The minister, however, did not to pitch up for the meeting citing legal advice, which angered opposition MPs.

MPs seek Digital Vibes report

The health portfolio committee met on Wednesday to adopt minutes of previous meetings, in which Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) MP Philip van Staden sought clarity on whether the committee should acquire the SIU report into Digital Vibes.

Replying to Van Staden, the committee’s chairpersona and ANC MP Sibongiseni Dhlomo said he was advised by National Assembly (NA) house chairperson for committees, Cedric Frolick, who indicated that Parliament would obtain the report once President Cyril Ramaphosa had referred it to NA Speaker Thandi Modise.

“The president indicated that he has received the report and he’s processing it. [He also indicated] that we need to give that processing time. From the Parliament’s side it will be the speaker of Parliament that will ask for the report from the Presidency. That is what I got,” the chairperson said.

Parliament cannot summon Mkhize

On whether Mkhize should be called to account before the committee, Dhlomo said Frolick further advised that Mkhize could not be summoned due to Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane acting in his position.

“The discussion that took place between me and honourable Frolick in this regard was that the matter may not be possible that you have an acting minister and a minister on leave coming in to address the portfolio committee.

“That’s why we were saying we have a limited response however that we can get from minister [Kubayi-Ngubane] because she wouldn’t have given us what we wanted.

ALSO READ: Mkhize’s son admits to receiving money from Digital Vibes ‘owner’

“It is unprecedented to have an acting minister and during that time, the minister who is on leave comes back to deliberate or interact with the committee,” he said.

Van Staden then asked for further clarity on rule 167(a) of the NA, which states that a committee could “summon any person to appear before it to give evidence on oath or affirmation, or to produce documents”.

This is because there is no provision on whether Parliament’s constitutional duty to carry out oversight on a member of the executive – in this case, Mkhize – still applies if the executive member is on special leave.

Dhlomo, however, reiterated that the committee would interrogate Mkhize once his special leave ended.

Mkhize ‘benefited’ from Digital Vibes contract

While it has been almost a month since Ramaphosa received the SIU’s final report on the matter, the investigating unit is seeking to review and set aside the multimillion-rand tender awarded to Digital Vibes, which is purportedly owned by Mkhize’s close associate Tahera Mather.

Digital Vibes was initially contracted to handle the department’s National Health Insurance (NHI) communication work, but its scope was later expanded to include work on the department’s Covid-19 campaigns.

READ MORE: Digital Vibes: Over R1 million spent on hair salon, nail franchise for Mkhize’s family

The SIU has already filed a 90-page affidavit to the Special Tribunal in a bid to recover the R150 million paid to Digital Vibes.

The investigating unit has also recommended that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA)consider charging Mkhize and his son, Dedani, for corruption over “suspicious payments” funnelled from Digital Vibes.

Mkhize is accused of putting pressure on the Department of Health to hire Digital Vibes and benefiting from R6,720 in repairs to his home, which was paid for by the company.

This is despite the minister maintaining his innocence in the scandal, saying he did not personally benefit from the contract even though his family could have.