Communications agency Digital Vibes turned a tidy 314% profit on the creation of a mascot for the National Health Insurance (NHI), according to an article in Rapport.
This follows a report by Daily Maverick that the Department of Health paid a total of R1.1 million to Digital Vibes for the mascot — a Nguni cow character named Pelo — and R250,000 for the development of a WordPress website.
According to the report, Digital Vibes paid a local animation studio R266,000 to develop Pelo and then billed the Department of Health for it in two separate invoices — one for R800,000 and another for R300,000.
The Digital Vibes scandal has cast a cloud over Zweli Mkhize’s tenure as Minister of Health.
President Cyril Ramaphosa placed Mkhize on special leave in the second week of June to attend to the allegations that the health department paid the company, which is reportedly controlled by two of the Minister’s former aides, a total of R150 million.
These initial reports of irregularities at the department focused on the alleged awarding of a contract to help communicate the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Special Investigative Unit (SIU) was appointed to probe the matter, and on 26 May Mkhize told journalists that the deal was irregular and disciplinary action would be taken against those responsible.
Mkhize described the public outrage as justified and denied playing any role in the contract award, or that he was friends with the people working there.
He also denied benefitting in any way from the contract or from Digital Vibes.
However, Daily Maverick tracked funds and benefits that moved from Digital Vibes to the minister’s family.
Mkhize said that all the funds would be returned, adding that the relationship between his adult children and the company was inappropriate and insisted there was no malice or intentional overstepping involved.
Subsequently, Daily Maverick reported that it had uncovered questionable invoices from the earlier days of the communications contract that the Department of Health awarded to Digital Vibes in 2019.
According to the report, Digital Vibes submitted invoices and received payments to the value of R23 million for projects related to the National Health Insurance (NHI).
At least R23 million of the R150 million paid to Digital Vibes was therefore for work related to the NHI, the report stated.
The company’s final invoice for NHI-related work was for a total of R7.82-million.
This included the amount of R300,000 for the animation of the Pelo cow character, R1.5 million for “data driven sentiment behavior“, and R250,000 for ”WordPress completion”.
WordPress is a free, open source tool for online content management and publishing.
The R250,000 reported by Daily Maverick was therefore not for licensing fees, but for other work related to the development and deployment of the site.
MyBroadband asked Digital Vibes for comment, but the company did not respond by the time of publication.
The Department of Health has said that the Digital Vibes matter is under investigation by the SIU and asked for the media to give the process space to conclude.