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Digital Vibes disciplinary hearings wrap up: here are t...

Maverick Citizen


Digital Vibes disciplinary hearings wrap up with temporary demotions, a resignation and a suspension

From left: Dr Anban Pillay faced four charges and was found guilty on one. Popo Maja faced four charges and was found guilty on two. Of the two charges against Shireen Pardesi, she was found guilty on one. (Photos: Gallo Images / Financial Mail / Russell Roberts // Supplied // Facebook)

Three senior officials in the Department of Health have been sanctioned for their involvement in awarding a contract to Digital Vibes to handle communications around the proposed National Health Insurance and, later, Covid-19 in 2020.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe followed a series of stories first published in Daily Maverick.

In its report the SIU said it had received allegations from a whistle-blower regarding potential irregularities in the awarding of the Digital Vibes campaign. 

“It was also alleged by the whistle-blower that the Minister [Zweli Mkhize at the time] had a vested interest in the appointment of Digital Vibes and that the appointment of Digital Vibes by the [department] had been irregular,” the report states.

Investigators established that Digital Vibes was headed up by a close associate of Mkhize. 

The SIU found that the procurement process was irregular and that the subsequent R150-million contracts were null and void. The disbursements of about R72-million and R80-million that were spent on this contract were declared fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

An interim preservation order was obtained to freeze R22-million and papers were served on 12 people and companies.

The report further stated that there was evidence justifying the institution of disciplinary action against officials in the national Department of Health, including deputy director-general Dr Anban Pillay, communications manager Popo Maja, chief of staff Shireen Pardesi, the current director-general, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, and another three officials. 

Buthelezi was suspended but later acquitted on all disciplinary charges against him. He returned to his job.

Health Department spokesperson Foster Mohale said the disciplinary matter arose from an investigation by an  independent forensic audit firm and the SIU into the awarding of a Covid-19-related communications contract to Digital Vibes.

Pillay, Maja and Pardesi faced charges after the investigation.

Mohale said Pillay faced four charges and was found guilty on one, Maja faced four charges and was found guilty on two, and Pardesi faced two charges and was found guilty on one. 

“As part of consultation, the presiding officer requested the Department of Health [through the Office of the State Attorney] to make submissions into possible sanctions and allowed the legal representatives of the employees to make representations on mitigating factors, and also allowed the parties to share notes where possible,” he said. 

Mohale said the presiding officers mentioned that all three were first-time offenders and there was no evidence (led during the hearing) suggesting that they benefited from the transactions. 

Pillay received a final written warning, valid for 15 months, and suspension without pay for three months, which will be followed by a salary-level demotion for 12 months.

Maja received a final written warning, valid for 12 months, and salary-level demotion for 12 months. 

Pardesi proposed that she be allowed to resign from the department with immediate effect, which was agreed by all parties and confirmed by the presiding officer. 

The SIU has recommended that Pillay be criminally prosecuted for breaches of the Public Finance Management Act and for making misrepresentations to National Treasury. 

The SIU also recommended that steps be taken against three other government officials, but they are no longer working for the department. They are Ian van der Merwe, the former chief financial officer currently employed by the Government Printing Works; Senzeni Ngubane from the Government Communication and Information System; and Reginald Ngcobo, a former department staff member.

Ngubane and Ngcobo were members of the technical evaluation committee for the Digital Vibes tender. Ngcobo currently works for the Department of Agriculture. DM/MC


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All Comments 12

  • So in other words, no real consequences for one of the most shameful ANC driven looting sprees in recent history… and there are so many…

  • “Mohale said the presiding officers mentioned that all three were first-time offenders and there was evidence (led during the hearing) suggesting that they benefited from the transactions. ”

    Some indication of the amount they benefited should have been given.
    If they benefited from the transactions they should have been dismissed. Oh yeah I forgot this is the public sector, slap on the wrist stuff, protected employment, no consequences

  • ITO the Public Service Code of Conduct and Schedule of Disciplinary Transgressions these are VERY serious charges which demand a sanction of DISMISSAL. How does a slap and tickle on the wrist counter rampant corruption? We should ask Dr. Nick Crisp

  • The suggestion that these are “first time offenders” and should be let off the hook is quite ludicrous. We are not dealing here with shoplifters to be let off with a suspended sentence. These are the very individuals that want to take control of healthcare options and technology for the entire population of South Africa. Foxes in the henhouse comes to mind. Shame on you, ANC!

  • According to the SIU report: “irregular expenditure amounting to approximately R 150 million and fruitless and wasteful expenditure amounting to approximately between R 72 million and R 80 million was incurred by the NDOH.” The report then deals with “process”, but the big issue should be “politics”. Who was responsible for deciding that R230 million should be spent in a way that the fight against Covid was seriously undermined. What was it used for anyway? This was an executive decision, and the Minister was responsible. By focussing on “process” we end up catching the middle and small-sized fish, and the shark gets off the hook. This is a poor report, and one wonders why it is so shoddy?

  • Correction: Three officials got a slap on the wrist. And Zweli Mkhize is running for the president of South Africa.
    It’s said, a country gets the government it deserves. But do we really deserve this?

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