Cape Town – Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on Friday drew a line in the sand with tax commissioner Tom Moyane, making their power struggle more public still, as ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe gave the party’s backing to the Treasury boss and said there was a plot to undermine him.
President Jacob Zuma subsequently also said he had full confidence in Gordhan, but appeared to distance himself from the conspiracy claim.
Gordhan told a PwC function on Friday that Moyane’s “defiance” and reluctance to “account to the new minister” was suspicious. He confirmed, as did Mantashe, that a question sheet from the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) was sent to him four days before he delivered the annual budget on Wednesday.
Gordhan said he viewed the missive from the elite investigating unit as “totally outrageous” and that it was unheard of for a state entity to attack a minister. He added that he intended to “put all the facts on the table” soon.
The Hawks probed the existence of a rogue intelligence unit within the South African Revenue Service and Mantashe said their latest move was clearly meant to undermine the minister before he tabled a budget seen as critical to getting the country’s economy back on an even keel.
“The ANC commends the minister of finance and his team for the hard work and the energy that they invested thus far. We further reiterate our full confidence in the minister and his team for the work they continue to do,” he said in a statement on Friday morning.
“It is unfortunate that there are now initiatives that are intended to undermine this work, reverse the gains our economy has made and have a destabilising effect in the long term,” he added.
“We are extremely concerned that four days before the minister delivered the budget speech, questions from the Hawks were sent to the minister. The timing of these questions indicates clearly that there was intention to distract the minister during this important time. It is even more disconcerting that these questions were leaked to the media.
“In our view this is a well calculated destabilisation plan with all the elements of disinformation, falsehoods and exaggerated facts.”
Moyane was absent from a pre-budget media briefing by Gordhan on Wednesday at which the finance minister and the SARS commissioner traditionally share the podium.
Questioned about this, Gordhan told reporters that there were still “issues” to be resolved and that he hoped to do so soon. He said, however, that he had full confidence in the staff of the revenue service, which he headed from 1999 to 2009 before becoming finance minister in that year. Moyane had been driving the narrative that an illicit spying unit was set up on Gordhan’s watch, something the minister has furiously denied.
Media reports this week have said Gordhan has threatened to resign unless Moyane was replaced.
These followed on the heels of a comment by President Jacob Zuma, who bowed to pressure in December to bring Gordhan back to the key portfolio, that he still believed former backbencher David van Rooyen was the best qualified person for the job.
The remark was read in some quarters as confirmation that a tussle between the Presidency and the National Treasury over state resources continued.
In his statement, Mantashe took care to point out that Zuma and Gordhan had both been working hard to stabilise the economy in the past two months, following the upheaval of December when the country changed finance ministers twice in a single week.
“It is the view of the ANC that the complex and difficult work that has been done by the president and minister since December to date, including during the budget speech, have restored the confidence of our people in the economy and brought about stability,” he said.
Mantashe went on to add that the party knew who had leaked the letter from the Hawks to Gordhan to the media.
“The ANC has reliable information on the individual leaking information to the media and will be engaging the person in this regard. In the event that the Hawks have anything to investigate related to the minister and SARS, it would be in the best interest of our country if they did so professionally, using the correct channel and procedures and not seek to conduct a trial through the media,” he said.
The presidency issued a statement several hours later saying Zuma had full confidence in Gordhan and all his other Cabinet ministers.
“President Zuma has praised the minister and the Treasury team and Cabinet as a whole as this was a most difficult budget given the depressed economic climate,” his office said.
“The president has noted the rumours and gossip which insinuate some conspiracy against Minister Gordhan. These baseless rumours and gossip will not deter or divert government from moving forward with promoting fiscal consolidation and pushing for inclusive growth and job creation,” it added.