Tuesday, 12 April 2022 18:22

Parliament clears Zweli Mkhize of contravening its Code of Ethics.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Parliament clears former health minister Zweli Mkhize of contravening its Code of Ethics.

The Executive Ethics committee says he cannot be held liable for his adult son benefiting from Digital Vibes contract.

The committee also finds that Mkhize did not personally benefit from Digital Vibes.

Last year, the DA's health spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube filed a complaint with the ethics committee saying Mkhize received benefits from Digital Vibes totalling R6,720.00 for electrical work done by 4 Way Maintenance at his Cranbrook property in Bryanston.

"The DA is of the view that Mkhize's conduct may be in contravention Section 5.2.2 of the code, which states that a member may 'not use his or her influence as a public representative in his or her dealings with an organ of state in such a manner as to improperly advantage the direct personal or private financial or business interests of such member or any immediate family of that member or any business partner of that member or the immediate family of that member, said Gwarube."

The DA pointed out that, in terms of the rules, "a member may not lobby for any remuneration or receive any reward, benefit or gift for that member or for the immediate family of that member or the business partner of that member or immediate family of that member, for making such representation as a member on behalf of any person or body".

With regards to that complaint, the committee said: "In this regard, the committee concluded that you did not breach the Code."

It added that the matter has now been closed.

Also on Tuesday, the committee released the Register of Members' Interests for 2022.

Mkhize did not declare owning the Bryanston property in question. He disclosed four properties, all of which were in KwaZulu-Natal. He also disclosed that he received a Huawei P smartphone, to the value of R1 500, from the Chinese ambassador. 

Meanwhile, Gwarube responded to parliament's findings. 

"It is deeply disappointing that the ethics committee would arrive at the conclusion that the alleged funnelling of money to the former health minister's son isn't a violation of the ethics code," Gwarube said. 

"The application of sections of the code were applied so narrowly that it excludes the minister's son as an unduly beneficiary on the basis that he's an adult and not dependent on Mkhize financially. This finding is seemingly at odds with the spirit of the code and provisions of it by this narrow application," she added. 

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report into the Digital Vibes scandal not only detailed how it was unlawfully awarded a R150 million communications contract - with the tender process reportedly set up to favour the company - but also revealed that it had failed to pay taxes.

The report found that "during the period 29 January 2020 and February 2021, the National Department of Health (NDoH) had paid a total amount of approximately R150 million to Digital Vibes, which was deemed to be irregular expenditure; and that the NDoH had incurred fruitless and wasteful expenditure of at least approximately R37 million in respect of payments made to Digital Vibes (sic)".

"Taking into account the amounts of money that were received from the National Department Of Health, and taking into account an analysis of the bank account(s) of Digital Vibes, it appears that Digital Vibes failed to declare and pay company tax and failed to pay the required VAT to the South African Revenue Service," read the SIU report.

Digital Vibes is a media company appointed by the department to run its National Health Insurance (NHI) communication campaign and later its Covid-19 media communications strategy.

The long-awaited report also found that former health Mkhize lied to the nation, failed in his oversight duties, and was clearly conflicted given the irregular appointment of his friends for the contract.

The media company is owned by Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha, who the report lists as "close associates" of Mkhize.

Mather was Mkhize's strategic communications adviser in 2019.

The report stated that on 15 July 2019, Mkhize sent a WhatsApp message to Precious Matsoso, then-director-general (DG) of the department, telling her to sort out the NHI contract with Digital Vibes.

"It is apparent from the contents of the WhatsApp message that the Minister was giving instructions to the DG. At best, this conduct on the part of the minister was improper and at worst, the conduct of the minister was unlawful... as it constituted an interference by the executive authority in the affairs of the administrative authority of the NDoH," read the report.