Cape Town - Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has lashed out at “dirty tricks and smear campaigns” after the latest attack on his integrity questioning his qualifications as a pharmacist.
In the same week, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and State Security Minister David Mahlobo gave a press briefing in which they tried to justify questions sent to Gordhan by the Hawks relating to the work of an alleged “rogue” intelligence unit at the SA Revenue Service (Sars), controversy broke out on social media after an EFF MP, Sentletse Diakanyo, mentioned on his Twitter feed that Africa Check had been unable to verify Gordhan’s qualifications.
The NGO, based at the journalism department at Wits University, checked on Gordhan’s qualifications as part of an article responding to President Jacob Zuma’s claim that the man he appointed as finance minister in December, Des van Rooyen, was the most qualified among the finance ministers he had hired.
Africa Check found Van Rooyen indeed sported the most qualifications in the field, whereas Gordhan’s highest qualification, according to his government profile, was a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy.
“We have been unable to confirm this with the university, however, but will keep trying,” researcher Lebohang Mojapelo wrote.
Gordhan, who had been the subject of news reports relating to the “rogue” unit before the Hawks stepped in, mostly flowing from leaked versions of a KPMG probe ordered by Sars commissioner Tom Moyane, said the smear campaigns were “endangering the work of government to increase confidence and investment in our economy and putting at risk the wellbeing and future of 50 million people, especially the poor, small business, the unemployed and big business”.
“I urge those in the shadows who can’t come forward and put the facts in a transparent manner to cease.”
Referring to a statement by the presidency this week, in which Zuma said his job was not under threat and that steps were being taken to address the tensions between Moyane and himself “responsibly and amicably, for the benefit of all”, Gordhan said these measures should be supported.
“The shadowy campaigns must stop. If people have information that can be checked or confirmed, they must come forward with the facts,” Gordhan said, adding: “The public is very aware of what is going on.”
He said he had graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree in 1973 and worked as a trainee pharmacist in 1974 and continued to work as a qualified pharmacist at the King Edward Hospital in Durban, before being detained in solitary confinement for five-and-a-half months, during which time he was fired.
Meanwhile, the Hawks and the Treasury are set to square off in Parliament even as their principals - Lieutenant-General Berning Ntlemeza and Gordhan - are at daggers drawn.
Gordhan told Ntlemeza through a letter from his lawyers this week he would respond to a list of 27 questions sent to him concerning the operations of an alleged “rogue” intelligence unit at Sars when he was ready, and not by Wednesday’s deadline, adding he would have to see how much of the information requested he would be able to supply.
He also questioned the legal status of the investigation, asking what offence was being investigated and on what authority Ntlemeza relied in sending him the questions.
Only three of the 27 questions appear to be aimed at clarifying the possible commission of a criminal offence - the alleged illegal bugging of National Prosecuting Authority offices.
The rest revolve around the history and work of what was initially referred to at Sars as the National Research Group, who worked in it, how they were recruited and how it was funded, among others.
Since it would not constitute a criminal offence even if, as alleged, the unit conducted covert operations that are strictly the preserve of the intelligence agencies, it is not clear why the Hawks, whose mandate is to investigate crime, would want to know all of this.
Nhleko and Mahlobo gave a briefing on the matter in Cape Town this week, but would not say what crime was alleged, with Nhleko saying only the Hawks were investigating the existence of the “rogue” unit.
But the shoe will soon be on the other foot, when the Treasury and Hawks meet before the police oversight committee in Parliament to discuss the latter’s budget.
The meeting arises from a series of court cases relating to the establishment of the Hawks in place of the Scorpions, in which businessman Hugh Glenister contested the limited independence of the new unit.
He was later joined by the Helen Suzman Foundation and, in November 2014, the Constitutional Court, after having previously sent back the legislation establishing the Hawks for Parliament to “cure” its defects, opted to fix it itself when the new version still didn’t meet the standard for operational independence of the unit.
It deleted clauses that would have given the minister of police the authority to suspend or remove the Hawks head and renew his or her tenure.