Cape Town - It seems South Africa has come out in support of Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan’s refusal to present himself to the Hawks.
The Head of the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigation, Major-General Berning Ntlemeza, had summoned him to Pretoria to sign a warning statement. The letter the Hawks sent Gordhan concerns allegations that he set up an investigation unit within the South African Revenue Service (SARS), which gathered, collected and evaluated intelligence.
The #HandsOffPravin was trending as analysts, media personalities and politicians used it to express their outrage at the summons.
Responding to the Hawks letter sent to him on Monday, Gordhan said he had been advised that the “assertions of law made by the Hawks...are wholly unfounded on any version of the facts” and he would, therefore, along with other considerations, not present himself for the taking of a warning statement.
“I have a job to do in a difficult economic environment and serve South Africa as best I can. Let me do my job,” Gordhan said in his letter to the Hawks’ Major-General Sylvia Ledwaba.
In their letter to Ledwaba, Gordhan’s lawyers point out that the allegation Gordhan facilitated the creation of a unit which gathered intelligence contrary to Section 3 of the National Strategic Intelligence Act 39 of 1994 is unfounded in law as the section did not apply to the SA Revenue Service (Sars).
Section 3(1) applies only to departments of state that are required by law to perform functions “with regard to the security of the Republic or the combating of any threat to the security of the Republic”, Gordhan’s lawyers say.
“Sars is not such a department. It was never engaged in national security matters. It was accordingly not subject to the prohibition in Section 3(1).”
The section also applied only to intelligence about any threat or potential threat to the national security and stability of the Republic, while the Sars unit had never engaged in the gathering of intelligence of this kind.
In a statement in response to the Hawks letter, Gordhan says the Sars unit was part of the broader enforcement division, which had enforcement capabilities similar to those required in any tax and customs administration in the world.
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On Thursday a delegation of church and civil society leaders are expected to go to the headquarters of the the Hawks in Pretoria.
“This is a civil society observer delegation to express disquiet about the attack on the Minister of Finance, Sars and other independent institutions of state. Their presence will coincide with the time when the first member of Sars has been asked to present himself to the Hawks,” public interest law centre Section 27’s Mark Heywood said on Wednesday.
“This is a critical moment in our nation’s future. There have been extensive discussions today with many different groups on how to respond. Feel free to join tomorrow and exercise your right to participate in and protect our democracy.”
Expected to attend “to offer their support” are retired Constitutional Court Judge Johann Kriegler, Advocate George Bizos, and director of the Helen Suzman Foundation Francis Antonie.
Gordhan also received the backing of Business Leadership SA (BLSA), which in an open letter to President Jacob Zuma said the investigation into Gordhan lacked any legitimacy or credibility and his possible arrest threatened all progress made by the country in the past eight months.
“It is shocking that our national collective effort to avoid a ratings downgrade and to restore inclusive economic growth is now being so insidiously subverted.
"If this sinister behaviour is allowed to continue, the consequences will be devastating for our economy, and will fatally undermine our national efforts to address poverty, inequality, and unemployment,” the BLSA board said.
“We urge you to act to preserve the unity and progress we have achieved since December by ensuring an end to the harassment, intimidation, and undermining of the leadership of our most important economic governance institutions.”
Former finance minister Trevor Manuel, meanwhile, said the Sars unit at the centre of the allegations against Gordhan and other former officials of the revenue service was established in the letter and spirit of the law.
Speaking on eNCA, Manuel said the Hawks were threatening the unity of the state and accused Zuma of failing to hold organs of state together in terms of the principle of co-operative governance.
It was “unseeming” of the Hawks to make pronouncements on ministers.
On Wednesday, the DA welcomed Gordhan’s move not to present himself.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said this was a “witch-hunt mandated by (President Jacob) Zuma against Gordhan on his road to the Treasury’s keys”, and the current Sars Commissioner, Tom Moyane, was seeing to it.
The Economic Freedom Fighters on the other hand urged Gordhan to co-operate with the investigation process.
“The EFF notes the unrelenting pursuit of criminalising the minister of finance by factions of the ANC who are seemingly gunning for Treasury under the instruction of the Gupta family,” EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said in a statement.
“To refuse to present himself to the Hawks will be to act with the same disrespect shown by [President Jacob] Zuma and his faction to institutions of the state.
“No one, even if they be Finance Minister or President, is above institutions of the state. We call on Pravin Gordhan to rethink his position and present himself to the Hawks.
“If he be innocent, which we believe he is, there is nothing the Hawks can do. The last thing we need is anyone being treated as if they are above the law,” said Ndlozi.
He said the institutions of the state should be respected and be upheld above “individuals who may be at their helm”.
African News Agency and Cape Argus