How Gordhan helped create the Moyane ‘monster’
The difficulty around Tom Moyane's removal as SARS commissioner is actually Pravin Gordhan’s doing
The epic and long-running battle between Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane reached a climax this week when President Cyril Ramaphosa suspended the latter.
The two have been at each other’s throats since claims exploded of a “rogue spy unit” operating at the revenue service and Moyane initiated investigations against Gordhan and former SARS officials.
Gordhan tried in vain to have Moyane booted out when he was reappointed finance minister but could not do so because he was under the protection of former president Jacob Zuma.It turns out that the way Moyane was appointed in September 2014 and the difficulty to remove him from his position is actually Gordhan’s doing.
In 2002, Gordhan had the South African Revenue Service Act amended to change the way the SARS commissioner is appointed. Gordhan was SARS commissioner at the time.
The original SARS Act gave the minister of finance the power to appoint the commissioner. It also said that the minister must consult the cabinet and an advisory board before appointing a person as commissioner.Amendments to the Act were gazetted in November 2002 giving the president the sole power to appoint the SARS commissioner. The amended act disestablished the advisory board and does not stipulate any requirement for consultation with the finance minister or cabinet on the appointment.
The amendment, pioneered by Gordhan, elevated the commissioner position, giving the incumbent a direct line of accountability to the president, not the minister.
Therefore, when Zuma appointed the commissioner in 2014, he did not consult Nhlanhla Nene, who was doing his first stint as finance minister at the time, but merely informed him that he had chosen Moyane.When Gordhan became finance minister again in December 2015, he wanted Moyane gone but had no power to remove him.
Tensions escalated between the two as the spy unit saga intensified and the Hawks attempted to charge Gordhan.
They exchanged a series of caustic letters in 2016 until Gordhan’s axing last March.
While Gordhan tried to hold Moyane accountable for SARS underperformance and the shortfall in revenue, the commissioner did not believe he was answerable to the minister.In one letter, Moyane told Gordhan that he subjected him to “horrible and intolerable working conditions through belittling, humiliating, denigrating, antagonising and disparaging my persona …”
“I ask myself every day what have I ever done to you that has made you mistreat and besiege me as if I am a little boy,” he said.
Gordhan told Moyane in one letter that his approval of his own performance bonus was “unethical, immoral and illegal”.
Gordhan said repeatedly after he was ousted that good people had been replaced at SARS to facilitate state capture.
“SARS became a political project and it is now run by people who have no idea how to manage a tax administration system. They don’t know what skills are needed and how to use them,” he said in one interview in September.In his letter to Ramaphosa challenging his suspension as “unlawful and unconstitutional”, Moyane cited Gordhan as being instrumental in his downfall.
Ramaphosa had written to Moyane on Monday informing him of his immediate suspension pending the institution of disciplinary proceedings.
“As I made plain to you, I have lost confidence in your ability to lead SARS,” Ramaphosa said.
“Developments at the SARS under your leadership have resulted in a deterioration in public confidence in the institution and in public finances being compromised.”
The president raised in particular Moyane’s handling of the corruption investigation into SARS senior official Jonas Makwakwa and the management of VAT refunds as issues of concern that prompted his decision to suspend him.But Moyane retorted that it was “glaring” that Ramaphosa had already decided to dismiss him despite there being “no evidence of an irretrievable breakdown of trust between the president and the commissioner of the SARS”.
“Further, there have been media reports that you have made a decision to install new leadership at the helm of the SARS and that Mr Pravin Gordhan is reported as the source of such reports. In this regard, SARS has received a plethora of media queries to the effect that you have already dismissed me and have already appointed another commissioner for the SARS namely Mr Mcebisi Jonas,” Moyane said.
It is clear that Moyane will not bow out easily, in part due to the bitterness between him and Gordhan.
Last year it seemed that Moyane had triumphed when Gordhan was axed but in a spectacular reversal of fortunes, it is now the SARS commissioner who has been given his marching orders.
But Gordhan will know that Moyane could have been history long ago had he himself not engineered the special status of the position of SARS commissioner.