Nene: Sars still a model public institution

Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene says that recent events will not "derail" Sars. (David Harrison, M&G)

Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene says that recent events will not "derail" Sars. (David Harrison, M&G)

Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene will not allow the events of recent months to “derail” the SA Revenue Service (Sars), and will do everything within his power to ensure Sars remains a model public institution.

“I am in consultation with the Sars commissioner and other relevant stakeholders about how we can best bring about closure to this sad chapter in the history of this important fiscal institution, but also do so in a manner that is less disruptive to its operations.” 

“I will make an announcement on the way forward before the end of January. It is also my intention to brief Parliament at an appropriate time,” Nene said in a statement on Saturday.

Nene said he noted the events that had been unfolding at the SA Revenue Service in recent months and that newly appointed commissioner Tom Moyane had kept him fully briefed.

He had also received a copy of the report by an independent panel, chaired by Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane.

“It is common knowledge that the commissioner has taken certain actions which are within his powers to take,” he said.

On December 5, Moyane announced the suspension of Deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay and Strategic Planning and Risk Group Executive, Peter Richer.

This followed the appointment by Pillay of a panel to investigate allegations reported in the media about a special projects unit and its alleged illegal activities at Sars.

On December 12, the Mail&Guardian reported that a factor that led to Pillay’s suspension was his refusal to let a consignment of African National Congress T-shirts, imported from China, be released by customs without duty being paid.

Sars has been at the centre of reports over the last few weeks about an allegedly rogue intelligence unit set up in 2007.

Previously, the Sunday Times reported allegations that the unit had been involved in setting up a brothel in Durban as a cover for officials working from home. 

The paper also reported that the intelligence unit had spied on a wide range of people, including taxi hitmen, druglords, cigarette and abalone smugglers, Sars officials and politicians, and that some Sars officials were infiltrated into the ANC as bodyguards.

In September, then head of tax and customs investigations, who allegedly headed the unit at one time, Johann van Loggerenberg, was placed on special leave pending a probe into alleged misconduct.

In November, the City Press newspaper reported that Moyane had formally suspended Van Loggerenberg.

On Thursday, the Labour Court in Johannesburg found Sars breached Pillay’s contract when it suspended him without giving written notice.

The court ordered that Pillay’s suspension be lifted and he return to work the next working day following the date of the order.

On Wednesday last week, Sars withdrew the suspension of Richer.

Facing suspension again
However, Sunday Times reported that Pillay faced suspension again. He was handed the suspension notice on Friday and was given until January 12 to say why he should not be suspended.

The newspaper reported that Pillay had to be suspended because there was a danger that he could tamper with evidence during the investigation, which he had allegedly done before.

Pillay faced various allegations including that he was instrumental in setting up a covert intelligence unit within Sars despite knowing that it was unconstitutional, it reported.

Nene said on Saturday that Sars was bound by the constitution and a high standard of professional ethics had to be promoted and maintained and service had to be provided impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias.

He said transparency had to be fostered by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information.

“Sars has, since inception, carried out its mandate with excellence and by so doing, has helped finance South Africa’s development agenda,” he said.

“While Sars and the commissioner are reasonably independent of the minister on operational matters, the Sars Act also provides that Sars is ‘under the policy control of the minister’ and ‘subject to any directives and guidelines on policy matters issued by the minister’.” the minister said. –Sapa


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