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Pillay Lives to Fight Another Day

Pillay Lives to Fight Another Day

Senior Health Official in Charge of Cannabis Regulation Gets Final Warning for His Role in the Digital Vibes Scandal But Criminal Charges Still Pending

Brett Hilton-Barber

14 July 2022 at 22:00:00

The Department of Health (DoH) has slapped the wrist of senior official Dr Anban Pillay, giving him a 12 month salary demotion and a final warning for his role in the Digital Vibes scandal. This was announced by the DoH on 21 July 2022 after comleting a disciplinary hearing. Dr Pillay is still facing criminal charges for being part of a network linked to former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize that allegedly defrauded the Department to the tune of R150 million.

Dr Mkhize has denied the accusations that his family benefited from the irregular communications tender awarded to Digital Vibes, but was  which was placed on special leave by President Cyril Ramaphosa in June 2021 after a Special Investigating Unit report directly implicated him in fr  . Mkhize, who has since resigned as Health Minister, is legally challenging the SIU’s findings and hopes hopes to regain a senior leadership position in the ANC when it meets in December this year.

The SIU is still pursuing charges against Dr Mkhize and several other DoH senior officials, including Dr Pillay.

The SIU’s finding was that Digital Vibes, owned by close Mkhize associates Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha, was awarded R150 million to provide communication during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The 114-page report details how the multi-million rand communications contract was unlawfully awarded and that service fees were highly inflated.

The SIU claimed that Dr Pillay was instrumental in awarding the tender to Dr Mkhize’s associates and he was suspended from the Health Department, which noted the seriousness of the allegations. Dr Pillay was in charge of health regulations and compliance and South African Health Products Regulatory Authority’s (SAHPRA) point man in the DoH before his suspension.

The disciplinary action against him consists of a final written warning , suspension without pay for three months and a “salary level demotion” for 12 months. It’s unclear at this stage whether he will resume his role of oversight over cannabis regulation and licensing. Pillay and his colleague Popo Maja held onto their jobs, while a third department employee Shireen Pardesi, was allowed to resign with immediate effect.

Dr Pillay caused a stir in the cannabis industry last year when he told Parliament that cannabis had no nutritional value and could therefore not be considered a foodstuff. This flew in the face of the Department of Agriculture (DALRRD) which in the National Cannabis Master Plan identified the food and beverage market to be one of the priorities in developing a new cannabis economy.


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