In response to growing pressure, both from within the African National Congress and the public, President Cyril Ramaphosa this week placed minister of health Dr Zweli Mkhize on “special leave” while the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) conducts investigates allegations of R150m of Covid-19 Health Department tender corruption, writes MedicalBrief.
“This period of special leave will enable the minister to attend to allegations and investigations concerning contracts between the Department of Health and a service provider, Digital Vibes,” the presidency said in a statement. Minister of tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane will serve as acting minister of health until further notice.
While describing public outrage as “justified,” Mkhize initially denied playing any role in the contract award or that he was friends with the people working there. He also denied benefitting in any way from the contract or Digital Vibes. So, too, did his family.
However, a Scorpio/Daily Maverick investigation has since produced evidence that Digital Vibes paid for maintenance work on a home owned by Mkhize, as well as buying his son a bakkie and transferring R300,000 to his company.
Media speculation is that if Mkhize goes, his permanent replacement will be former Gauteng Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa or Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Ramokgopa replaced Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu shortly after the Life Esidimeni tragedy. Dlamini-Zuma, held the Health portfolio during former president Nelson Mandela’s tenure.
Sunday Times Daily writes that Ramaphosa’s move followed calls by a number of the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) members at its meeting on Monday. “The majority of the people said, for the sake of the organisation and for his own sake, he must step aside. They said he must take leave of absence,” said an NWC insider.
“The problem now is that wherever he goes people are going to ask him about Digital Vibes, and this will continue to dent the image and integrity of the organisation.”
“The majority of the people yesterday said that Zweli must go to the integrity commission, and then take leave of absence until the matter has been resolved. Others felt appearing before the integrity commission was sufficient,” said the source.
Eyewitness News reports Mkhize as saying that he understood the public's outrage and anger. Mkhize was on an oversight visit to Kimberley when news of the president's decision broke.
“The negative discourse has not only had an impact on me, but it is also an impact on my family, but most of all, also it has tainted the teamwork of our government that is led by President Ramaphosa, in our continued efforts to fight COVID-19,” said Mkhize.
He said that he and his family were in agreement that the funds from Digital Vibes that benefited his family needed to be returned.
“The kind of relationship that was involved was inappropriate, and then of course at the end of it, all those funds need to be returned. The issue was that it was based on a personal relationship as adults and as we have children at this age, they proceed to have relationships which we were not necessarily aware as to what extent they go,” the minister said.
Daily Maverick commentator Stephen Grootes writes that Mkhize's request to go on special leave, rather than to resign, suggests that he is not ready to permanently vacate office, or even believes he may be able to cling on to his position in Cabinet.
“While [Ramaphosa] might have indeed wanted to fire Mkhize, it is still not clear who his replacement would be. There are several options, but those candidates have their drawbacks. (Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma may find it difficult to work with some of the scientists playing important roles right now, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi was despised by Cosatu when he was health minister, etc.)
“Also, it would lead to more pressure on Ramaphosa to implement a Cabinet reshuffle – a move he may not yet be ready to make.
“It may also be that Ramaphosa wants to avoid having to step into the tension over the ANC National Executive Committee resolution that people “charged” with wrongdoing must step aside and the Nasrec resolution that those “implicated” must step aside. Particularly when Ace Magashule will be making arguments about this issue in court when he challenges his suspension as ANC secretary-general.
“There is another possibility. It may be that Mkhize feels he can brazen it all out, that he can survive, and that perhaps daring Ramaphosa to fire him could earn him a prominent slot in the opposing bloc.
Business Day reports that in a separate matter, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said that her office will be initiating contempt proceedings against embattled health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize over his failure to honour a subpoena on three occasions.
She said Mkhize was subpoenaed to give evidence and produce documents in relation to an investigation into allegations of undue delay and/or failure by the national health department to implement the recommendations of the Report of the Clinical Associate National Task Team 2017. The task team was established by the national health department to, among other things, review lessons learnt during the training of more than 900 and the appointment of almost 700 clinical associates in 2001.
Mkhwebane said she was investigating a complaint by clinical associate Sanele Ngcobo, the general secretary of the Professional Association of Clinical Associates of SA (Pacasa), who wants the health department to implement the recommendations of the clinical associate national task team.
“He failed to present himself on all three occasions, with his office advising each time that he was unavailable,” Mkhwebane said in a statement. “It is critical for state functionaries to understand that compliance with our investigations is not optional. No less than the constitution of the republic enjoins other organs of state to support and assist the public protector to ensure the institution’s independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness,” said Mkhwebane.
National Health Department spokesperson Popo Maja said they had not had time to study Mkhwebane’s statement, adding that “the minister will seek legal advice” on the matter.
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