Tahera Mather, a long-time associate and former personal spokesperson of Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, was at the centre of a dubious communications contract awarded to Digital Vibes in 2018. Daily Maverick reports that documents submitted by Digital Vibes in a successful bid for a R3.9m contract from the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA) are riddled with allegedly bogus claims about the company’s “team members”. Digital Vibes’ bid bundle, obtained through a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application, also contains apparently fraudulent examples of previous government work.
DM reports that the tender specifications placed considerable emphasis on the qualifications and experience of the bidders’ team members and on each company’s track record regarding earlier work in the public sector. It is, therefore, possible that Digital Vibes secured the contract as a result of the allegedly fraudulent representations in its bid documents.
DM reports that this latest investigation confirms that Mkhize’s close associate was intimately involved in Digital Vibes’ affairs while she worked at Mkhize’s side. Mather would also later play a key role in a now-suspended multimillion-rand communications contract from the Health Department.
Speaking through her attorney, Mather denied that she had committed fraud. She added that Digital Vibes had completed the MISA project “in full”. DM reports that there was no response from Radha Hariram who, at least on paper, serves as Digital Vibes’ principal director.
The bid documents for the MISA contract make no mention of Mather, but she appeared on the scene as Digital Vibes’ “project manager” after the obscure communications firm had secured the contract. DM reports that this was confirmed in a written response from MISA. “After the bid was awarded, the project manager designated by Digital Vibes was Ms Tahera Mather,” stated MISA.
The Digital Vibes bid submission, however, put forward someone else as the company’s would-be “team leader” for the project. According to the documents, Manusha Pillai supposedly held this position at Digital Vibes.
DM reports that Pillai, who currently works as the head of communications at the Human Sciences Research Council said she never worked as Digital Vibes’ “team leader” on the MISA contract. In fact, Pillai did not do “one stitch of work” for Digital Vibes.
She said Mather, whom she knew from her previous job at Brand South Africa, contacted her in 2018 and asked for her CV and a copy of her master’s degree. Pillai was aware that Mather had been preparing a submission for a government tender. Hoping that she might secure some freelance work, Pillai complied, but she never heard from Mather again, she claimed.
DM reports that there are other holes in the Digital Vibes bid documents. The submission also listed Zolile Lobe as one of the company’s team members. Lobe, who now works as a provincial government spokesperson in the Free State, was shocked when he heard that his credentials were included in the bid documents.
According to Mather, “Digital Vibes fully intended to use the services of Ms Pillai and Mr Lobe.” “Due to operational demands, Digital Vibes was forced to find replacements,” she claimed. Mather added that Digital Vibes had informed MISA that it would replace Pillai with “competent team members”.
DM reports that the bid evaluation committee’s (BEC’s) report, also obtained through the PAIA application, confirms that a considerable portion of Digital Vibes’ winning score for the tender would have come from points it received thanks to Pillai and Lobe’s supposed positions as Digital Vibes “team members”.
DM reports that MISA said it was happy with the work Digital Vibes delivered. “The Digital Vibes contract has run its course and came to an end within the set timeframes, with MISA obtaining the deliverables required.”
Despite the multitude of concerns over the Digital Vibes bid submission, MISA remained adamant that all was above board. “The tender was considered and awarded on the basis of the bid proposals provided by bidders, as is normally the case with all tenders. We thus vehemently disagree with your view that this was a rigged or even a ‘corrupt’ tender,” stated MISA.
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