SA Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane has thrown down the gauntlet to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, making it clear he is to go ahead with restructuring plans in defiance of the minister’s request that he put them on hold.
Moyane also vowed on Friday to release a contested report by KPMG on the work of an alleged “rogue” unit in the revenue service.
The move brings to a head the stand-off between the two that has developed since Gordhan returned to the finance ministry following the shock dismissal of Nhlanhla Nene.
Moyane’s announcement further muddies the waters on the status of the KPMG report, which Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas and KPMG chief executive Trevor Hoole have said may not be regarded as a final report until it has been accepted by the client: Sars and the Treasury.
At a press conference after his appointment, a furious Gordhan questioned the integrity of the investigation, saying he had not been given a chance to respond to its findings, among them that he should be probed for possible knowledge of the unit’s unlawful operations.
Asked on Friday whether Moyane considered the report to be final, the Sars commissioner’s spokesman, Sandile Memela, said: “That’s a tricky one, but why would he commit to releasing it if it’s not yet final?
“I know it becomes very difficult to know what the truth is because there are so many sources and people with their own interpretation.”
Gordhan and former acting commissioner Ivan Pillay have insisted the unit was legally authorised and did not engage in any covert intelligence work, which by law is the preserve of the intelligence agencies.
Details of what has been portrayed as a “rogue” unit emerged during Gordhan’s absence from the ministry, following the messy break-up between the unit’s former head, Johan van Loggerenberg, and his lover, State Security Agency informer Belinda Walter.
Walter, also a lawyer for the tobacco industry, has said Van Loggerenberg illegally intercepted her phone calls and revealed the existence of the unit to her.
Moyane was appointed in September 2014 shortly before the completion of an earlier investigation into the claims by a panel headed by advocate Muzi Sikhakhane.
He used the findings of this investigation to justify the suspension of top Sars officials, including Pillay, group executive Peter Richer and Van Loggerenberg, all of whom subsequently quit.
Chief of operations Barry Hore and a number of other senior personnel also left, prompting fears of a purge of staff who had served under Gordhan.
Pillay’s suspension was overturned in the Labour Court. Richer’s was withdrawn after it emerged that the Sikhakhane report had made no findings against them.
Moyane later began an “operating model review” involving a comprehensive shake-up of top management, all of whom had to reapply for their posts, and a review of IT systems. He said on Friday this had been approved by Nene and other stakeholders, including business and unions.
With the financial year almost over, there are fears the shake-up could affect revenue collection, which was revised down substantially in the October medium-term budget policy statement.
In a meeting with Moyane the day after his reappointment, Gordhan asked for the process to be suspended so he could gain a sense of its implications.
Moyane, however, obtained legal opinion that said he didn’t need the minister’s approval on operational matters. In an internal memo this week, he announced a number of senior appointments.
Memela denied on Friday that leaks of the KPMG report, which have featured in front-page leads in the Sunday Times, had come from Sars or Moyane.
“What we can safely say is to confirm that, of course, all the copies were uniquely numbered, but what we want to state categorically is that none of the copies were leaked from Sars,” Memela said.
“Major controls and processes” had been instituted under Moyane to cut down on leaks.
Memela said Sars could tell which copy of the KPMG report had been leaked by its unique number, which had been published in the media. It had not come from Sars.
“The matter of the leakage of that report must be addressed with those who are in possession of that report.”
Memela would not say whom this referred to, but confirmed that the Treasury had been given copies.
Gordhan was unable to give comment for this story before going to press.