Gordhan lays into 'lack of accountability' from SARS top managers

Picture credit: Trevor Samson.
Picture credit: Trevor Samson.

In a shocking revelation of the parlous state of relations between Treasury and the South African Revenue Service (SARS)‚ Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has had to qualify his response to a parliamentary question about the tax authority.

Replying in writing to a question by DA finance spokesman David Maynier about whether SARS has any specialised investigating unit similar to the now disbanded high-risk investigation unit‚ Gordhan provided the information supplied to him by SARS‚ cautioning that the ministry could not verify its accuracy “because of lack of accountability and co-operation from the SARS top management”.

Such a qualification is unprecedented in ministerial replies to parliamentary questions.

It indicates that the relationship between Gordhan and SARS commissioner Tom Moyane has reached rock bottom.

This comes after months of Gordhan’s being hounded by the Hawks and facing charges relating to decisions taken when he was SARS commissioner.

The information supplied by SARS early in November also does not accord with subsequent revelations that a secret investigation unit has in fact been set up to probe possible corrupt dealings between SARS staff and individuals in the tobacco industry.

It insisted that it had no investigating unit similar to the high-risk investigation unit.

SARS said in its reply to the question that it had implemented a new operating model and dealt with noncompliance in high-risk areas (including areas such as the illicit economy) through its compliance programme.

“SARS has a multifaceted approach to tackle the illicit economy‚ tax-related organised crime and tax evasion. This approach integrates its resources to deal with such matters. SARS also builds and maintains strong working relationships with South African law enforcement agencies‚” the reply said.

“The SARS enforcement unit primarily deals with tax‚ customs and excise-related investigations and is supported by other units within SARS such as case selection which identifies the cases; internal investigations which investigates cases perpetrated by/with the assistance of SARS employees and Customs and Excise Investigations‚ etc.”

SARS said it worked with government departments to execute its mandate.

In reply to another question by Maynier regarding the bodyguards used by Moyane‚ Gordhan supplied the information given to him by SARS — again with the caution that his ministry had not been able to verify it.

The reply said Moyane did have protection service officers assigned to him.

“SARS is a critical institution which is tasked with revenue collection‚ including from high-profile individuals and businesses. Due to the nature of its mandate it is vital that the commissioner and SARS employees who are threatened or deemed to have been threatened by individuals or syndicates under investigation are provided with personal protectors‚” the reply said.

“The current commissioner including previous SARS Commissioners have all been allocated protective service for this reason.”

The number of bodyguards was not provided as doing so represented a security risk.

The total cost of the bodyguards between April 1 2014 and March 31 2017 would be about R700‚000.

TMG Digital