Contenders to replace Moyane may ruffle feathers
As candidates emerge, so do the spectres of the so-called SARS rogue unit and illicit tobacco sector
A host of contenders have been identified to replace embattled SA Revenue Services (SARS) commissioner Tom Moyane after he was axed by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week. Moyane and Ramaphosa are set to be locked in a court battle over the move for some time, but this is unlikely to block the president from appointing a permanent tax boss, in order to “stabilise SARS”. It will not be surprising if Ramaphosa waits for the SARS commission of inquiry to submit its final report at the end of November before announcing a permanent commissioner.
In his terms of reference, Ramaphosa specifically asked the commission, chaired by retired judge Robert Nugent, to pronounce on the suitability of the current SARS governance arrangements and make recommendations for the future.
Moyane was suspended seven months ago on full pay. Ramaphosa was emboldened to fire Moyane after Nugent recommended in his interim report that Moyane be axed and a new commissioner be appointed urgently in order to stabilise SARS.
On Thursday, Ramaphosa acquiesced and implemented this recommendation. He said acting commissioner Mark Kingon would remain in the post until he made a permanent appointment.
Kingon can serve in the post until the end of December, when the 90 days prescribed in the SARS Act for an acting commissioner are up.
Kingon can then be appointed for a another 90 days in an acting capacity, if Ramaphosa wants to buy more time to apply his mind on a permanent commissioner. Or he could make a permanent appointment.
Despite Moyane’s attorney arguing that Nugent is lobbying for Kingon to remain in the post, sources familiar with the matter say the acting commissioner is hardly in the running for the post.
Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas has been named as the preferred replacement. Other names emerged last week as potential contenders, among them senior SARS official Hlengani Mathebula, former SARS chief officer Nathaniel Mabetwa and Edward Kieswetter, a former SARS COO with a long history at the institution, as well as former deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay. Mathebula and Pillay are likely to ruffle feathers should they be appointed to the post, for different reasons. Pillay is a long shot since he is facing charges linked to the so-called rogue unit – an application for a stay of prosecution has been filed in the matter. Mathebula had told the SARS inquiry how Moyane had a ‘‘hit list’’ of individuals he wanted investigated and removed. Mathebula was head of enforcement at the time and said he was ‘‘uncomfortable’’ investigating people at his former boss’s behest.
But Mathebula has yet to answer to allegations around his role in a unit headed by Yegan Mundie, who reported to him. Mundie was on suspension when he resigned from SARS in 2018 after he had allegedly acted against the law to aid key players in the illicit tobacco sector and launched spurious investigations and charges against SARS officials probing sensitive cases.
Ramaphosa will be keenly watched when he makes this appointment, but what is also critical is for the president to strengthen the legislation governing SARS and the conduct of its commissioner.
In his interim report, Nugent stresses that governance will need to be enhanced by tightening reporting lines for the commissioner, tightening the laws governing the appointment and firing of a commissioner, providing oversight by an independent body, and tightening the mechanisms to detect and prevent internal fraud and audit at SARS. Without this key legislative overhaul, there is always a risk of another Moyane ascending to the helm of the revenue service – and another uphill battle to get rid of him.