/ 26 February 2016

Gordhan threatens to go to court as tensions with Sars ripple

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on Friday said he would, if necessary, go to court to protect himself and his ministry from a group of people intent on “disturbing institutions”, after confirming that he had received a letter from the Hawks and that his relationship with Sars commissioner Tom Moyane was hostile.

“If necessary, I will take appropriate legal action to protect myself and the National Treasury from whatever elements seeking to discredit me, the institution, and its integrity,” Gordhan said.

He reiterated that the Hawks had no reason to investigate him, and said he believed a letter sent to him by the elite investigating unit last Thursday “was meant to intimidate and distract us from the work that we had to do to prepare the 2016 budget”.

“I can categorically state that the Hawks have no reason to ‘investigate’ me,” he said.

Earlier on Friday, African National Congress secretary general  Gwede Mantashe expressed similar views, saying the letter from the Hawks to Gordhan, as well as the timing thereof and the fact that it was leaked to the media, were “extremely concerning” and signalled that somebody was trying to undermine the work of the finance ministry as it sought to stabilise the economy.

“In our view this is a well-calculated destabilisation plan with all the elements of disinformation, falsehoods, and exaggerated facts,” he said.

Mantashe expressed the ANC’s full confidence in Gordhan. Several hours later, President Jacob Zuma’s office also issued a statement expressing confidence in the finance minister. However, the presidency dismissed the notion that there was plot to undermine him.

“The president has noted the rumours and gossip which insinuate some conspiracy against minister Gordhan. These baseless rumours and gossip will not deter or divert government from moving forward with promoting fiscal consolidation and pushing for inclusive growth and job creation,” it said.

But Gordhan was insistent on this point in his statement.

“I am grateful for the support I have now received from the ANC and its determination to ensure that vital state institutions such as the treasury and the South African Revenue Service (Sars) are not adversely affected by the kind of actions we’ve seen in the last week,” he said.

“There is a group of people that are not interested in the economic stability of this country and the welfare of its people. It seems they are interested in disrupting institutions and destroying reputations.”

Earlier on Friday, while addressing a PwC function, Gordhan had said he found Moyane’s “defiance” and reluctance to “account to the new minister” suspicious.

He also confirmed that he had, contrary to custom, chosen not to have Moyane at his side when he addressed a pre-budget briefing on Wednesday. The SARS commissioner has since his appointment by Zuma 18 months ago been driving the narrative that an illicit spy unit had operated within the revenue service while it fell under Gordhan, who headed SARS for 10 years before serving his first stint as finance minister from 2009 to 2014.

Gordhan denied this last year and on Friday stressed that an investigative unit established while he headed SARS had been entirely legitimate.

“The NRG, and subsequent investigative units, were legally constituted and approved at ministerial level. It has done commendable work in disrupting activities in the illicit economy and raising revenue from high risk sectors of the economy,” he said.

Media reports this week said Gordhan has threatened to resign unless Moyane was replaced.

These followed on the heels of a comment by Zuma, who bowed to pressure in December to bring Gordhan back to the key portfolio, that he still believed former backbencher David van Rooyen was the best qualified person for the job.

The remark was read in some quarters as confirmation that a tussle between the presidency and the National Treasury over state resources continues.

The SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) also declared its confidence in Gordhan on Friday afternoon.

The position to support Gordhan was adopted on the opening day of the civic organisation’s two-day national executive committee (NEC) meeting at the St Georges Hotel in Irene outside Pretoria, Sanco said.

“The NEC hopes that business and all stakeholders will support his economic turnaround plan. The budget and austerity measures he has presented on Wednesday has laid the foundation for fiscal discipline, financial consolidation, and the stability that the country needs for economic growth,” Sanco president Richard Mdakane said.

South Africa remained an attractive investment destination because of a shared commitment with social partners to address problems facing the economy, and Gordhan was equal to the task to turn the economy around.

“We must rally behind him to frustrate efforts to undermine the advance towards recovery and radical economic transformation to tackle poverty, unemployment, and inequality,” Mdakane said. – African News Agency (ANA)