Director-General of the Department of Health Dr Sandile Buthelezi has been suspended in connection with the R150m Digital Vibes scandal, reports News24, while Daily Maverick speculates over the survival, so far, of his deputy, Dr Anban Pillay.
The department's Foster Mohale confirmed on Sunday that Buthelezi had been suspended for his apparent involvement in the Digital Vibes tender, which had resulted in the resignation of former Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Daily Maverick notes that while Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla, appointed after Mkhize’s resignation, has acted against Buthelezi, he’s yet to suspend Deputy Director-General Dr Anban Pillay, “who is implicated in the Digital Vibes scandal on multiple fronts”.
Pillay was acting DG when the contract was awarded and a member of the tender evaluation committee (TEC). He has denied any wrongdoing. In its court application, the SIU said Pillay appointed Digital Vibes “based on an arbitrary decision… a decision made even before Digital Vibes had submitted its quotation”.
“As acting DG, Pillay authorised R74m in payments to Digital Vibes in four months. The SIU claimed he committed fraud, violated the Public Finance Management Act and exposed himself to criminal charges.”
Speaking on behalf of the Health ministry, Mohale told Daily Maverick that Pillay had not been suspended.
Dr Nicholas Crisp, deputy director general responsible for National Health Insurance, will continue to act until Buthelezi's hearing process has been concluded, the Health ministry said in a statement.
According to Mohale, when Buthelezi joined the department between May and June last year, the contract had already been awarded. However, it continued while he was in charge, until the Special Investigating Unit's probe revealed that it had been unlawfully awarded. It was alleged that the tender process had been set up to favour Digital Vibes.
"He (Buthelezi) was the accounting authority and what happened could have not happened without his knowledge," said Mohale.
Minister Joe Phaahla had appointed the department's deputy DG Crisp as acting director-general last month, reports News24.
In June, President Cyril Ramaphosa placed Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on special leave so he could respond to allegations against him in the Digital vibes saga. Mkhize later resigned.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said while Buthelezi’s precautionary suspension might be routine in disciplinary matters like this within the department, “it is only the tip of the broader iceberg”.
“Real accountability cannot be dealt with in a piecemeal fashion. A number of senior officials within the department are implicated in this corruption scandal,” said a statement issued by the party’s shadow minister of health Siviwe Gwarube.
“Transparency is needed on who has been implicated and what steps are being taken to hold them to account. Simply assuring the people of South Africa that the matter is being dealt with is not good enough. We have seen many corruption scandals swept under the carpet within the ANC government and this egregious theft will not be another one.
“The theft of public money must be dealt with publicly to ensure all those found to have broken the law are held to account.”
The statement added that Phaahla’s “slow pace on this and reluctance to clean out the rot within the top management of NDOH is most concerning”.
“In addition, this points to the need for the full SIU report into Digital Vibes to be made public. President Cyril Ramaphosa has sat on this report since 30 June when the SIU handed the report to him. The DA submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act Application to gain access to the report, and the presidency requested a 30-day extension, which expires today (Tuesday 28 September).
“The DA will not let this matter go. The principle of accountability is critical in a constitutional democracy. There cannot be one set of rules for the ANC government and another set for everyone else.”
Commenting on the issue, political analyst Susan Booysen agreed ttat it was strange it was taking Ramaphosa so long to release the report.
In a News24 report, she said it would be best for him to "bite the bullet" and release the SIU report into the whole Digital Vibes saga. Investigators had given him the report in July yet despite promising to make it public, he has still not done so.
"The ANC is going into an intense election campaign, and it is possible it is being held back because it can do more damage. We know how much damage is out there already: how voters have trimmed down their levels of trust in government and how the perceptions of corruption under Ramaphosa are escalating."
The report “could be more damning than the snippets that have been leaked already”, she said. "It might be worse than we already know."
If Ramaphosa released it before the municipal elections next month, she added, he would have to reassure the public that a scandal like this would never happen again.
"Voters are very astute nowadays. He would have to make a compelling case on why we should not expect this to recur." But she also warned that stalling the report’s release created more suspicion, adding: “Bite the bullet and release it. And make sure you have a persuasive argument that this has been nipped in the bud.”
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga agreed. "The report might create a public outcry for criminal probing into the matter. Key decisions are being taken on information that has not been made publicly available."
At the beginning of September, Ramaphosa had sent notices to people named in the report so they could decide whether to object to its contents.
Mathekga said not releasing the report was a pattern of Ramaphosa's inaction on important matters. "He took a long time before acting on Zweli Mkhize and, when did, the minister was not summarily removed. He was still on suspension until he resigned."
See more from MedicalBrief archives: