Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has described as ridiculous a comment by the SA Revenue Service (SARS) that reporting to the minister is “operational courtesy” instead of a legal requirement.
Gordhan’s statement in a written reply to a parliamentary question cuts to the heart of the bitter battle between him and SARS commissioner Tom Moyane.
On Friday, Moyane described the relationship between the two key government leaders as “strained” and has asked President Jacob Zuma to appoint a judge to mediate between them.
Gordhan made the comment in reply to a question by DA MP David Maynier about the investigation SARS instituted into the agency’s modernisation process by Grant Thornton, which began in February 2015 and has not yet been concluded.
SARS had provided a reply to the question about whether it had briefed the minister on the probe, saying Gordhan had not been informed but that the investigation had arisen as a result of findings in a report by consultancy Gartner, which had been given to former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene “as part of operational courtesy”.
Gordhan said this was “ridiculous to say the least”.
“In government, there are very categorical prescripts in the constitution, the Public Finance Management Act and other legislation which requires a head of SARS to be accountable to the minister of finance,” Gordhan said.
“The concept of ‘operational courtesy’ is ridiculous to say the least.
“The principles of good governance require that professional accountability and ethical conduct are non-negotiable.”
According to insiders, the public disagreement between Moyane and Gordhan was also strengthening a case for the removal of the minister in a pending cabinet reshuffle.
The parliamentary reply came to light after Moyane accused Gordhan on Friday of interfering with operations at SARS.
He claims Gordhan has sought to usurp some functions conferred to him by the SARS Act.
He further accused Gordhan of belittling him, of treating him as a non-entity and of shouting and screaming in meetings with SARS management.
The rift between the two resurfaced in the public domain last week, when it emerged that the tax agency was behind in its revenue collection target by some R30-billion – with Gordhan blaming the organisation and its leadership for this.
The Mail & Guardian reported on Friday on 16 letters between Moyane and Gordhan, exposing the deterioration of the relationship.
In a briefing held in Pretoria to respond to this, Moyane denied that he had allocated and paid himself a bonus as alleged in the letters and that he had opened a criminal case against Gordhan which had led to him being charged by the National Prosecuting Authority last year.
He said he had opened a case relating to the alleged rogue unit at the tax agency, established during Gordhan’s term as commissioner – not into the minister.
It was also reported yesterday that the Hawks were now targeting Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas in a corruption investigation.
Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi said the investigation dated back to last year and was looking into issues at South African Airways, not the minister.
Moyane blamed Gordhan and the national Treasury on Friday for leaking the letters to the newspaper.
“An investigation conducted by the SSA [State Security Agency] into the leakage of correspondence within SARS and between SARS and the Treasury confirmed there is no leakage from SARS,” he said.
“I have no alternative but to reasonably suspect that the leakages emanate from the office of the minister.”
He side-stepped questions about whether an SSA probe at SARS, instead of an internal one, was a risk to maintaining the confidential nature of its business.
Moyane said he had requested Zuma to intervene by appointing an independent party to mediate between the pair.
“I am willing to engage the minister with or without the intervention of a third party to resolve whatever personal and/or professional differences may exist.” – BDlive