Public protector turns her searchlight on to Sars

The South African Revenue Service (Sars) has been drawn into the battle between public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, with her office threatening to bring contempt proceedings against Sars and alleging that the tax agency“co-ordinated” its response with Gordhan.

Mkhwebane said this week that she had granted Gordhan an extension to submit an affidavit with responses to a string of questions from her.She had subpoenaed Gordhan and other Sars officials as part of her investigation, based on a complaint laid by Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) deputy leader Floyd Shivambu, into allegations of a“rogue unit” at the tax agency.

READ MORE: Gordhan seeks extension on reply to Public Protector ‘rogue unit’ subpoena

Gordhan now has until May 3 to submit his response. The questions relate to the establishment of ahigh-risk investigation unit, dubbed the “rogue unit” in now-discredited Sunday Times reports. Mkhwebane also asked about information technology contracts signed by Sars during Gordhan’s tenure as commissioner; “Project Sunday Evenings”, which related to the alleged bugging of the National Prosecuting Authority offices in 2007; and whether there was interference in the tax affairs of EFF leader Julius Malema.

Mkhwebane says she is investigating allegations of improper conduct, a violation of the executive ethics code and allegations of irregular and unlawful activities by Gordhan. The minister required the extension to obtain records from Sars.

Mkhwebane said her office would subpoena records directly from Sars, and that she “banks on the undertaking from acting commissioner Mark Kingon that Sars recognises her office as an independent constitutional institution as well as that he appreciates Sars’s constitutional obligation to assist the office”.

“Should her office not be favoured with the information held by Sars, as a last resort, she will have to invoke the Public Protector Act, particularly contempt proceedings,” a statement from her office said. The statement also said it “brought to the attention of the public” that her office “received allegations” that Sars held a meeting with the parties implicated and that “the kind of responses she received from the institution and the minister were co-ordinated”.

Gordhan has hit back with a letter from his attorney, Tebogo Malatji, asking Mkhwebane to provide “factual basis and sources”. Malatji denied allegations of collusion, saying Gordhan had not met any person subpoenaed by the public protector or any official at Sars. Heattached a letter from Kingon in which he turns down Gordhan’s request for documentation, pending opinion from legal counsel, which Sars is urgently seeking.

Natasha Marrian
Natasha Marrian
Marrian has built a reputation as an astute political journalist, investigative reporter and commentator. Until recently she led the political team at Business Day where she also produced a widely read column that provided insight into the political spectacle of the week.
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