Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan on Tuesday said Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane was behaving in a manner not befitting her office by falsely accusing him of colluding with others on how to respond to her questions about a so-called rogue unit with the South African Revenue Service.

Gordhan late on Tuesday evening released correspondence between himself and Mkhwebane's office, after consulting with lawyers, saying he was doing so in the public interest.

He said that she had failed to respond to a letter from him and instead issued a media statement that was factually incorrect on at least two counts.

Firstly, it was not true that he had only approached her on Monday to seek an extension of the deadline by which he had to respond to questions from her, the minister said.

Secondly, her claim that parties at Sars implicated in the probe met shortly after she issued them with subpoenas and as a result of this "the kind of responses she received from the institution and the minister were co-ordinated". 

Mkhwebane made the claim in a media statement on Tuesday in which she announced that she had granted Gordhan an extension until May 3 to respond to her questions.

"We take serious issue with any suggestion by the Public Protector that there was collusion by ‘implicated parties who were served with subpoenas’ to co-ordinate how our client responds to her office," the minister's office said. 

"These unfortunate remarks, in her statement to the media earlier today, have no basis in fact and represent conjecture which impugns the Office of the Public Protector. 

"Minister Gordhan has not met with any person subpoenaed by the Public Protector nor with any official of the South African Revenue Service (“Sars”) in relation to the subpoena issued by the Public Protector.

"We will be challenging the Public Protector to provide the factual basis for the statement suggesting that minister is acting in concert with others and why he is referred to as an implicated party."

The Public Protector is investigating Gordhan following a complaint from Economic Freedom Fighters chief whip and other, anonymous, complainants that while he was Sars commissioner he unlawfully established an intelligence unit within the tax service. 

She gave him less than a fortnight to provide her with certain information and the minister requested an extension, citing the election campaign and the Easter holidays.

This charge of establishing a so-called rogue spy unit within Sars was repeatedly leveled against Gordhan after he fell foul of former president Jacob Zuma.

In his correspondence to Mkhwebane, the minister asked on which grounds she was initiating another investigation into allegations that had been probed by other institutions on found to be baseless. 

It pointed that both the Nugent Commission had found that the minister had not committed any wrongdoing, and that an earlier probe by her predecessor Thuli Madonsela into the same allegations had also concluded that there was no wrong on his part.

It said Mkhwebane was, in light of Madonsela's investigation, bound by law to explain which circumstances compelled her to open another investigation.

However, she had failed to respond to this.

Gordhan also noted that he she had requested information which would delve into the confidential tax matters of other parties and released a letter from acting Sars commissioner Mark Kingon in which he informed Gordhan that he could not summarily provide this information as this risked violating the confidentiality by which the tax service was bound. 

Kingon said that he first needed to seek legal advice, and added that his position should not be misread as unwillingness to assist him.

In her media statement, Mkhwebane signalled that she would subpoena Sars directly for the information she was seeking.

African News Agency/ANA