The precautionary suspension of three key allies of former South African Revenue Services (Sars) commissioner Tom Moyane indicates that reform at the tax agency is finally taking shape.
Among the first big decisions taken by newly appointed Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter was to halt the use of his executive committee, which remained packed with Moyane loyalists, and seek advice from them only on an ad hoc basis.
He also set up dedicated capacity in his office to identify matters and cases arising from the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture as well as the Sars commission of inquiry into governance and administration, chaired by retired Judge Robert Nugent.
This week Sars announced the suspension of its chief officer for governance, international relations, strategy and communication, Hlengani Mathebula; its chief officer for human capital and development, Teboho Mokoena; and the group executive for employee relations, Luther Lebelo.
Both Mathebula and Lebelo were criticised in the Nugent report for their conduct during the Moyane era. Mathebula was the head of enforcement at the tax agency during that period and Lebelo was dubbed “Moyane’s hitman” by his colleagues before the Nugent inquiry.
Mathebula had admitted before the Nugent inquiry that Moyane had asked him to suspend key investigators at Sars without following due process.
He also told the commission of inquiry of an incident in which Moyane told him to leave his cellphone behind and accompany him to the car park, where the now-axed commissioner urged him to sign off on a memorandum to empower an investigation unit. Moyane had told Mathebula that he knew where he and his family resided — the comments from the commissioner at the time were described as a “very ominous threat”.
The memorandum was intended to approve resources for a controversial unit at Sars, which was meant to probe the illicit tobacco industry, but which practically instead probed and acted against senior tax agency investigators who were conducting investigations into organised crime and the illicit tobacco industry.
Lebelo, it emerged in the commission of inquiry, had used taxpayer money to prepare himself for his testimony before the Nugent inquiry. Sars was charged R1-million, thereafter reduced to R750 000, to prepare files for him to be used in his testimony.
Lebelo denied this before the inquiry, but Nugent urged Sars to take steps on the matter in his final report.
While work to clean up Sars continues apace, there remains much to be done. Much attention has been on consultancy Bain, and rightly so, for its insidious role in restructuring Sars to neutralise its capacity, but IT consultants Gartner, too, have much to answer for.
Gartner, which partnered with Moyane’s close friend Patrick Monyeki, admitted to writing the specifications for a Sars IT tender.
Gartner also admitted at the Nugent inquiry that, despite about R200-million being paid for the work, nothing of consequence was actually delivered. The work was described in Nugent’s report as “largely useless”. The contract was found to be irregular by both Sars and the treasury.
The Sars clean-up is set to be slow, but there is a wealth of low-hanging fruit identified in the Nugent report that the new commissioner can use to speed up the process.