Zuma throws Sars a curveball
Johannesburg - Former President Jacob Zuma has thrown a curve ball at the SA Revenue Services (Sars) by allowing them to make his tax records available to the public protector.
In a surprise move, Zuma on Tuesday threw his weight behind Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane granting her permission to peruse his tax files - a move that could see Mkhwebane freely accessing the tax records of politicians and government officials as part of her investigations.
“This may in the future include finance details of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2017 presidential campaign which have been sealed from being made public following a court order in August.
The move by Zuma also comes while Sars seeks to stop Mkhwebane from obtaining Zuma’s records.
“I need to clarify that I have never refused the office of the PP access to investigate my affairs. This country knows very well that the former PP @ThuliMadonsela investigated me on a number of occasions and made findings against me,” tweeted Zuma.
Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter on Tuesday said the impending court case by the organisation was not about withholding Zuma’s record but that Sars rather wants the courts to clarify the legal principle of a taxpayer’s privacy as contained in the Tax Administration Act of 2011.
Sars is fighting attempts by Mkhwebane to obtain Zuma’s records as part of an investigation emanating from allegations that he received monthly payments of R1million from Durban businessman Roy Moodley while he was president.
The allegations are contained in investigative journalist Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers and prompted former DA leader Mmusi Maimane to ask Mkhwebane to probe the allegations.
Kieswetter admitted that Sars regulations stated that organisations may release tax information to third parties but only if the taxpayer involved consents in writing.
“There are, however, specific provisions that allow 'taxpayer information' to be disclosed to a person who is not a Sars official (this happens if) a taxpayer gives written consent,” he said.
But while it may not be in a formal document, Zuma appeared to give consent, throwing his weight behind Mkhwebane’s mission saying he had no problem with his records being perused as he “had nothing to hide”.
In a Twitter thread, Zuma said: “It must be known that I have nothing to hide. If the @PublicProtector wants to see my Sars record, she is free to do so. We should not make the job of the PP difficult. If she wants my records, she must have them. Even where I personally thought she was going beyond her mandate I still obliged because I respect the office of the Public Protector”
“I am not part of the contestation of my tax records,” Zuma said. His spokesperson Vukile Mathabela did not respond when asked if Zuma was willing to write to Sars and permit them to hand over his tax records to Mkhwebane.
Keiswetter earlier said they have previously given information to Mkhwebane’s office but did not indicate what kind of information and what informs the court case now.
“In an attempt to avoid litigation, in 2018/19 officials from Sars and the public protector’s office briefed counsel jointly. The advice provided to Sars and the public protector, to my mind, clearly confirms that Sars cannot be compelled to provide taxpayer information to the Public Protector.”
“Earlier this year, I unequivocally expressed my support for the office of the public protector. In many other instances, I and my staff have worked diligently to extract information at the request of her office, and I shall continue to do so. I also expressed my wish that we would keep a line of communication open, where we could rather discuss issues of potential disagreement openly, honestly and frankly.”
Political analysts Ralph Mathekga and Mighti Jamie said Zuma appeared confident over his tax affairs. Mathekga said Zuma appeared convinced that Mkhwebane would not find any dirt on him.
“This is a different (and) strange strategy from Zuma’s side. What could be the bigger issue here is that he believes that that the showdown between the protector and Sars will benefit his case.” Attempts to obtain comment from Mkhwebane’s spokesperson Oupa Segalwe were unsuccessful.