Sars boss Tom Moyane. File Image

Parliament - Parliament's standing committee on finance on Tuesday, criticised South African Revenue Service (Sars) Commissioner Tom Moyane for allowing senior official Jonas Makwakwa to return to work, and said he handled the controversy surrounding suspect payments into his bank account poorly.

"You have not served yourself well, and you have not served Sars well. There has to be serious consideration on suspending this gentleman and his partner," committee chairman Yunus Carrim told Moyane.

Members of Parliament (MPs) from across the political spectrum said it appeared obvious that, given the gravity of the allegations against him, Makwakwa should remain suspended until the criminal process against him had taken its course, and be allowed to return to Sars only if he were cleared by law enforcement agencies or the courts.

The Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) red-flagged large payments into Makwakwa's bank account and that of his girlfriend Kelly-Ann Elskie. 

According to Moyane the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, or Hawks, were investigating the matter, on the request of FIC. But Democratic Alliance MP Alf Lees challenged this, saying his information was that Sars had been told it had to refer the matter to the elite police unit and asked whether this in fact happened. 

Moyane replied that he had discussed the matter with the leadership of the Hawks, and that they assured him that there was no reason for him to open a case as "they are dealing with it".

Carrim said Moyane's public statements on the matter, as well as his responses to questions from MPs on Tuesday morning, in which he complained of a media narrative designed to besmirch Sars, were fuelling perceptions that the man who is widely seen as his deputy, was being shielded.

"There is a strong perception that he is being protected and you are feeding directly into that perception," Carrim said.

Makwankwa was reinstated in his position as Sars' chief officer for business and individual taxes on November 1, after being suspended for a year.  Moyane reiterated that Makwakwa had been cleared of misconduct in an investigation by law firm Hogan Lovells, who found that neither him nor Elskie had contravened Sars policy.

He also stressed that a report compiled by Hogan Lovells concluded that there was no prima facie evidence that Makwakwa had made himself guilty of misconduct in relations to the transactions noted by the FIC.  

This has been disputed by the law firm, who said that its brief did not include a direct investigation of the transactions and that it had been made to believe that these were being probed criminally.

On Monday, Moyane had also contradicted Hogan Lovells in a convoluted statement which said Makwakwa was served with disciplinary charges on January 20 for violating the Sars Conflict of Interest disclosure provisions as well as its code of conduct. A further charge was later added, for allegedly breaching his suspension conditions through a phone call to a fellow Sars employee.

He said he appointed Advocate Terry Motau, SC, to chair the disciplinary inquiry with the guidance Hogan Lovells. It concluded on August 15 and the outcome was received from the chairperson on October 13. Makwakwa was cleared of all charges.

Carrim said he had written to Moyane on Friday in relation to the Makwakwa matter and asked that he respond before Tuesday's meeting. Instead, Moyane issued a media statement.

"Why didn't you just write to me?" he asked, clearly irritated.

Carrim added that the committee had a duty to look into the matter further, and would call Hogan Lovell to answer questions from MPs.  

"In this world of smoke and mirrors, you cannot tell what is fact and fiction."

Carrim asked that the committee reconvene on Wednesday afternoon to continue its discussions with Sars, but Moyane said he would not be available.