The pursuit of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is many things. Following the decision by National Prosecuting Authority head Shaun Abrahams yesterday to abandon fraud and theft charges against Gordhan, we can add to the list a monumental waste of time and money.
Along with Gordhan, former tax boss Oupa Magashula and revenue service employee Ivan Pillay are also off the hook. Their representations to Abrahams appear to have flicked a switch, one that, in the space of three weeks, brought home the sudden realisation that the entire premise for the fraud case the NPA was chasing was flimsy at best.
Gordhan, remember, refused to accept the invitation by Abrahams to review his case. Instead, he called the prosecution man’s bluff. Abrahams blinked first. And at yesterday’s press conference to announce the latest developments, he blinked again, and again, and again.
Perhaps Abrahams was wholly unprepared for the public backlash and subsequent groundswell of support for Gordhan.
But from the outset Abrahams appeared ready to hedge his controversial call.
At the first press conference, he was quick to state that the decision to prosecute came from his directors. Read this how you will, but it is not completely unrealistic to think this was the first indication of a sycophant looking for an exit sign.
Yesterday, he reiterated the point about the decision to prosecute, in effect trying to seal himself from the repercussions of such a disastrous decision.
One journalist asked him if heads would roll, to which Abrahams replied that he would need to apply his mind. Given this debacle, that may, or may not, be such a good thing.
Abrahams was quick to rule out an apology, oblivious to the cost to the economy and the NPA’s credibility. Oblivious, indeed, to the damage done to his own reputation. Some would argue there is only one head that should roll – his.
What now for Gordhan? If the state could lay off him until next year, it may stave off the December ratings downgrade experts are bracing for. The problem is that of the 27 questions sent to Gordhan by the Hawks, the Pillay retirement issue was but one of several. With this avenue now closed to them, don’t rule out a renewed assault on a different front.