Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has complied with the Constitution in terms of his conduct in the matter Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is investigating, his lawyers said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
Earlier on Tuesday the Public Protector had agreed to extend the deadline for the minister to respond to allegations included in a complaint by the Economic Freedom Fighters’ deputy president Floyd Shivambu and an anonymous colleague about the establishment of a so-called “rogue unit” at the South African Revenue Service (Sars).
Mkhwebane had subpoenaed Gordhan to respond to allegations about the creation of the unit, the appointment of former Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, an IT tender and EFF leader Julius Malema’s tax affairs by April 23 at 1pm. Gordhan’s spokesperson, Adrian Lackay, previously referred to the subpoena as an example of “persistent harassment of Minister Gordhan and a flagrant abuse of office”.
Gordhan asked for and was granted an extension to reply to the allegations. He now has until Friday, May 3, to submit his answers.
“In the spirit of fairness, I have decided to grant Minister Gordhan the extension he has requested so that he may have a reasonable opportunity to gather the information I need as some of it goes a few years back,” Mkhwebane said in a statement on Tuesday.
Mkhwebane also said in her statement that she would like to “bring to the attention of the public” that her office had received allegations that Gordhan and the tax agency had met and coordinated their responses.
Gordhan’s attorney Tebogo Malatji, in response, said in a statement on Tuesday evening that the suggestion of collusion has no basis of fact and represents “conjecture which impugns on the Office of the Public Protector”.
“Minister Gordhan has not met with any person subpoenaed by the public protector nor with any official of the South African Revenue Service in relation to the subpoena issued by the public protector.
“We will be challenging the public protector to provide the factual basis for the statement suggesting that minister is acting in concert with others and why he is referred to as an implicated party,” the statement read.
Malatji also shared part of Gordhan’s correspondence with the Public Protector requesting an extension. The letter is dated April 16, 2019, and not April 22, 2019 as the Public Protector’s office had stated in its media statement.
“It is incorrect for the office of the Public Protector to suggest that the Minister only requested a postponement on 22 April 2019 and to suggest that the reason for such a request was access to SARS records,” Malatji said.
In his statement on Tuesday, Malatji also said that the matter being investigated by the Public Protector was not raised with her office within two years of the alleged incident. For this reason, he argued, Mkhwebane needs to set out the “special circumstances” she is invoking to investigate the allegations according to the Public Protector Act of 1994.
Gordhan stepped down as commissioner of the tax agency in 2009.
Malatji also stated that Mkhwebane’s predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Nugent commission had previously considered the establishment of the so-called “rogue unit” and found no wrongdoing.
“We are yet to officially receive a response to the substantive matters raised in our letter of 16 April 2019 which are primary and germane to the request for an extension as well as the follow up letter of 22 April 2019,” said Malatji.
The Public Protector has previously stated that her investigation is distinct from the NPA’s previous probe, as it focuses on “maladministration while the NPA pursued the criminal aspects of the case”. — Fin24