The Department of Health at the Weekend revealed that it was taking legal action to recover the millions of rand paid to Digital Vibes, which was irregularly awarded a communication tender.
The department made the revelation during an exchange with Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health.
For its part, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health called on the department to ensure vaccine roll-out plans were not derailed by the suspension of several senior staffers over the Digital Vibes scandal.
At least seven health department officials implicated in the multimillion-rand dodgy Digital Vibes communications contract had been suspended by Friday.
Health department director-general, Dr. Sandile Buthelezi, was suspended a week ago while six other officials were given suspension letters on Friday.
The suspensions follow the Special Investigation Unit’s damning report on the breach of the department’s procurement procedures regarding the awarding of the Covid-19 communication contract to Digital Vibes, which amounted to an inflated R150 million.
The Portfolio Committee has asked the department to present a detailed report on the genesis of these transgressions and its plan of action.
The committee also demanded, timelines and the consequence management processes from the department.
This was to ensure that the credibility of the department and its vaccination roll-out were not affected by the suspensions.
Addressing the committee, acting director general, Dr. Nicholas Crisp, said the transgressions only came to the department’s attention after whistleblowers raised concerns with the tender processes.
Dr. Crisp informed the committee that the department has embarked on a court process to recover the money from 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.
The committee said it cautioned against any lengthy disciplinary process as officials are suspended with pay, a huge liability to the state.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla, whose predecessor Dr. Zweli Mkhize lost his job over the dodgy tender, said he “would be pleased if this matter could be finished by the end of October”.
He, however, warned that “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.”
Chairperson, Dr. Kenneth Jacobs, said the committee will meticulously practice oversight over the department to “ensure that this does not happen again.”