Employees claim that fear stalked Sars during Moyane's reign

(David Harrison/M&G)

(David Harrison/M&G)

There was an atmosphere of fear, mistrust and a culture of being sidelined at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) according to employees who said they watched the once respected organisation disintegrate under the leadership of suspended commissioner Tom Moyane.

The second day of the Nugent commission of inquiry into tax administration and governance at Sars continued on Wednesday. Five former and current senior employees are currently testifying over their experiences at the revenue service, before and after April 2014.

Central to Wednesday’s hearings was establishing how employee morale had been ruined at the institution — which has suffered a rapid “brain drain” since 2014 — and how that impacted on the revenue service’s ability to meet revenue targets. Sars is currently sitting with a R48-billion revenue shortfall.

Moyane is expected, at a later date, to appear before the inquiry to give his response to the allegations.

Sobantu Ndlangalavu — the Sars group executive for tax public education — was the first witness to appear before retired Judge Robert Nugent and supporting panellists Professor Michael Katz, Vuyo Kahla and Advocate Mbongi Masilo.

Ndlangalavu, who first started working at Sars in 2008 as the head of the small business amnesty unit, described how his experience at the revenue service went from being vibrant, exciting and eliciting pride, to that of mistrust, exclusion and shame.

Giving examples of some of the factors which contributed to the atmosphere of fear at the revenue service, Ndlangalavu spoke of an incident when he arrived at work at the Lehae la Sars campus in Pretoria, to find all the trees had been uprooted.

“Some of us had asked…what have the poor trees done? Facilities people can’t answer us and eventually we receive an email saying these trees were causing a security risk,” said Ndlangalavu.

“We asked, to who? Because we have been here for many years and there has not been any reason… A week or so later we wake up and there are cameras all over the campus, even on top of vending machines”.

“We also [became aware of] the fact that there are devices in the trees and the foyers that we are told are listening devices,” he said.

It got to the point, he added, where staff began using sellotape to block the inbuilt cameras on their laptops, because people felt they were being monitored, even if they were not.

Ndlangalavu further explained how credibility issues at Sars interfered with the work that his department was carrying out when it came to tax education. He said for six years they had worked to establish a relationship with media houses such as Primedia and eNCA for what were called “tax days”.

Through this relationship, officials from Sars would help media institutions with their tax affairs and in return they were able to get free airtime to speak on issues around tax morality. 

But soon after media reports on the controversial Sars rogue unit report emerged in 2014, Ndlangalavu said they had to “quietly kill the relationship”.

Former Sars executive of debt collection Vusi Ngqulana and the former executive for integrity promotion, Tshebeletso Seramane, also shared their experiences of how during Moyane’s restructuring of the organisation, their different departments were dismantled without consultation.

This leg of hearings continues until Friday.

Tebogo Tshwane

Tebogo Tshwane

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust financial journalism trainee at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a general news intern at Eyewitness News and a current affairs show presenter at the Voice of Wits FM. Tshwane is passionate about socioeconomic issues and understanding how macroeconomic activities affect ordinary people. She holds a journalism honours degree from Wits University.  Read more from Tebogo Tshwane

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