'SARS restructure was set up to cull enforcement'

Retired Supreme Court of Appeals Judge Robert Nugent is heading the SARS inquiry.
Retired Supreme Court of Appeals Judge Robert Nugent is heading the SARS inquiry.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali / Sunday Times

The restructuring at the SA Revenue Service had culled its enforcement capacity‚ the commission of inquiry chaired by retired judge Robert Nugent heard on Thursday.

Former chief officer for enforcement Gene Ravele told the inquiry that the tax agency's capacity to conduct criminal investigations and prosecutions has been neutered since the restructuring under now-suspended commissioner Tom Moyane's watch.

"The operational review was about dismantling enforcement‚" he said.

On Wednesday‚ the commission heard how the critical large-business centre was dismantled during the restructuring conducted between 2014 and 2016.

Ravele said he was aware that an instruction was issued for Sars to halt all inspections on cigarette companies - an instruction allegedly issued by then-second in command Jonas Makwakwa.

"The amount of revenue Sars collects from excise is dropping... if you are going to stop inspections people are going to do as they wish‚" he said.

Ravele was at the helm of the division which housed the alleged "rogue unit" or the high-risk investigation unit - reports on which had weakened the institution and led to a purge of senior executives.

On Thursday Ravele provided a description of the work the unit did and denied that it procured surveillance equipment. Reports on the rogue unit have been largely discredited. He said surveillance equipment was procured by the anti-corruption unit within Sars and not by the high-risk investigation unit.

Ravele resigned from Sars in 2015 after nearly 20 years at the institution. He resigned after experiencing pressure from Moyane with trumped-up charges lodged against him with the police and the Hawks.

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