Parliament, Saturday, 2 October 2021 – The Portfolio Committee on Health has called on the Department of Health to ensure that it puts contingency measures in place to prevent instability in its vaccine roll-out plan following the suspension of several senior officials involved in the Digital Vibes scandal.

This follows receipt of the Special Investigation Unit’s (SIU) scathing report on the breach of procurement procedures and National Treasury’s note regarding the awarding of the Department of Health’s Covid-19 communication contract to Digital Vibes which amounted to an inflated R150 million.

The Portfolio Committee invited the department to present a detailed report on the genesis of these transgressions, the department’s plan of action, timelines and the consequence management processes to ensure that the credibility of the department and its vaccination roll-out is not affected by the suspension of its director general and some of the senior personnel implicated in the SIU report.

According to the Acting Director General, Dr Nicholas Crisp, these transgressions came to the department’s attention after whistle blowers raised their concern about the processes that were breached in awarding the department’s vaccination roll-out communication strategy contact to Digital Vibes and the amount of money it charged for its services.

Following the Auditor General’s investigation and the SIU’s preliminary investigation to verify the whistle-blowers’ allegations Department’s Director General, Dr Anban Pillay and several of its senior personnel were suspended.

The core findings of the SIU’s report alludes to, among others, irregularities in the awarding of this tender, the flaunting of procurement of procedures and the National Treasury notes, the disregard of the Public Finance Management Act, the conflict of interest of the officials of the department, fruitless and wasteful expenditure of R150 million of the department.

Dr Crisp informed the committee that the department has embarked on a court process and has issued a letter of demand to Digital Vibes for the repayment of this amount.

Regarding those implicated, six senior officials have been put on precautionary suspension as well as the Department’s former Dr Pillay. He further added that the department is now in the process of formulating charges against them.

In their response to the department’s report, several members of the committee raised their views about the need for accountability and consequence management, not just suspension.

They also cautioned against lengthy disciplinary process as officials are suspended with pay, a huge liability to the state. The Minister of Health, Joe Phaahla, indicated that he “would be pleased if this matter could be finished by the end of October. But we have to ensure that the disciplinary process follow the Labour Relations Act and cannot be challenged in future, an issue that would either be costly or taint the credibility of this process.”

The chairperson of the committee, Dr Kenneth Jacobs, reassured the public that the committee will meticulously practice oversight over the department to “ensure that this does not happen again.” He added that the committee is pleased that the department has already taken measures to ensure that its covid 19 programmes are not affected by the suspension of its senior personnel.


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