By Manyane Manyane
President Cyril Ramaphosa lacks the will to take action against the embattled Health Minister Zweli Mkhize because he needs the ANC NEC top member’s support to be re-elected for the second term at the party’s elective conference in 2022.
The sentiment by opposition parties and political analysts comes after a damning Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report on Thursday which found that Mkhize “directly and indirectly” benefited from the R150 million that was unlawfully paid by the department to Digital Vibes, a company owned by Mkhize’s close associate Tahera Mather.
According to the SUI, Mkhize received R6 720 from Digital Vibes, allegedly for maintenance at a Bryanston property, while his son received R3.8m. These monies allegedly amount to undue gratification as there was no evidence that they did any work for Digital Vibes.
The SIU contended that the contract was unlawful, invalid and had to be set aside.
Ramaphosa has already placed Mkhize on a special leave over the Digital Vibes tender after he received an initial report from the SIU a month ago.
The company has been accused of inflating prices and doing work that the Health Department could have done internally.
During his visit to a vaccination site in Tembisa on Thursday, Ramaphosa told the media that he had received the SUI report but there was still some finalisation of certain aspects which “we are going to get”.
However, Freedom Front Plus leader Johannes Groenewald accused Ramaphosa of being soft on Mkhize.
“The reason as far as I am concerned is that he must ensure KZN support to be re-elected next year at the ANC conference. There is no Zulu member in the top six and the president must do everything he can to keep support. Again the people of SA pay the price for factional in-fights of the ANC,” he said.
IFP chief whip Narend Singh said his party was concerned that it was taking Ramaphosa long to respond to the report.
“Regardless of who the report may implicate, if any person found guilty of corruption, they must face the consequences without fear and favour,” said Singh.
DA’s spokesperson on health Siview Gwarube called on Ramaphosa to show his mettle by cleaning up his Cabinet and appointing a permanent health minister who is capable and beyond reproach.
“We also welcome the move by the SIU to recoup the millions in public funds wasted on the Digital Vibes contract. This is another step closer to accountability for those involved in this scandal.
“The DA on 3 June also took the necessary steps to lay a criminal charge against both Mkhize and the director-general of the Health Department. Not only should Mkhize be fired, he must also be criminally investigated and face the full might of the law should he be found guilty,” said Gwarube.
Asked if the president was considering hiring a full-time health minister, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Tyrone Seale said the presidency was unable to comment on executive appointments as this was a presidential prerogative.
Political analyst Professor Sethulego Matebesi said in a normal environment Mkhize would have been dismissed from his position by now.
“However, in the current highly contentious political landscape – largely ascribed to intra-ANC factional battles – Ramaphosa is taking a calculated approach in dealing with the SIU investigation report.
“It is not unusual for presidents to take a long time before they take the nation into confidence about such reports,” said Matebesi, who added that the fact that Mkhize was an ally to Ramaphosa had to be considered.
“If the president is ambitious for a second term, he will need all his armoury to lift him to the podium of the next ANC elective conference.”
Professor Sipho Seepe said the prevarication that was apparent in how the case of Mkhize was handled had more to do with political calculation than commitment in rooting out corruption.
“There is a little doubt that the anti-corruption brigade is inconsistent in its application of rules. Summary suspension is reserved for those perceived to be political opponents, and also for those that are considered to be politically expendable. The whole step aside rule is a means to settle political scores.
“We have not seen the usual suspects making noise as they have done with the likes of Magashule and Bongani Bongo. A lot of editorial commentary went into an overdrive in calling for Magashule’s scalp. Yet Mkhize was spared of the insults and denigration,” said Seepe.
In the SIU report, Mkhize and his son, Dedani, were listed among 20 people to whom Digital Vibes paid R90 million of the R150 million that the company received from their contract with the health department.
The unit said there was no procurement and contractual basis for the majority of the payments made to Digital Vibes.
“Digital Vibes received these payments on the basis of fraudulent misrepresentations made in its bid documents and the procurement process was fraudulently manipulated by officials of the Department of Health in order to ensure the appointment of Digital Vibes.
“The evidence obtained thus far by the SIU, as detailed in Ms Hesti Marcia Le Roux’s affidavit, shows that the department received little or no value for money in respect of services provided to it,” the SIU said. Sunday Independent