The South African health minister has been put on special leave until further notice by the country’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, while the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) examines allegations of corruption.
Minister Zweli Mkhize said he had requested time away from his post while the investigation is ongoing, and asked to be temporarily replaced so he could fight the allegations of corruption levelled against him.
“We have not discussed the issue of resignation. We have discussed the issue of special leave pending the report of the SIU,” Mkhize said on Tuesday, after speaking to the country’s president.
Mkhize is under investigation by the SIU over a contract awarded by his department to a company called Digital Vibes, which is run by his former personal assistant, Tahera Mather, and former secretary, Naadhira Mitha.
The contract was granted in 2019 for work on South Africa’s National Health Insurance, with the agreement more recently extended for activity responding to the Covid pandemic. However, concerns about the legitimacy of the agreement were raised in December 2020 with the nation’s auditor-general.
An investigation subsequently conducted into the contract established it had been irregularly awarded, violating the Public Finance Management Act.
Mkhize has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claimed he did not personally benefit from the contract. While he has told the media that he is willing to participate in the investigation, Mkhize refused to appear before the South African parliament’s health committee last week over the allegations, claiming his legal team had advised against it until the SIU has concluded its assessment.
The special investigators are expected to have completed their report by the end of June, according to local reports.
Ramaphosa’s decision to accept Mkhize’s request to take leave was made after members of the African National Congress party called on the South African president to urgently address the growing scandal.
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