Suspended SA Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Tom Moyane was an “ego-driven despot” who was “bloated with self-importance”, the inquiry into the organisation’s affairs heard this week.
“A series of events since August 2015 has made me feel harassed, victimised, bullied and marginalised,” the former head of SARS’ Large Business Centre (LBC), Sunita Manik, says in a letter placed before the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into tax administration and governance at SARS.
“I am therefore lodging this grievance against commissioner Moyane and Jonas Makwakwa as they have been instrumental in my victimisation. The final salvo in my abuse has been the attempt to compel me to take a polygraph,” she says in the letter.
Manik sent the letter to then finance minister Pravin Gordhan. It is dated March 17 2016.
At the time, the LBC was collecting 30% of SARS’ tax revenue. Makwakwa was SARS’ chief officer for business and individual tax.
Manik says she left SARS after more than 22 years at the institution and had performed successfully at a senior level.
City Press sent Moyane’s lawyer Eric Mabuza a copy of Manik’s grievance letter and asked for comment.
His response via WhatsApp was: “Commissioner Moyane is unable to deal with staff matters. He is currently on suspension. We propose that the grievance should be referred to the acting commissioner until the commissioner comes back.”
When City Press said Manik had left SARS and again asked for a response, Mabuza didn’t reply.
City Press wasn’t able to reach Makwakwa for comment.
In an interview on the sidelines of the inquiry, Manik said Gordhan didn’t respond to the letter of grievance. She said she understood that Gordhan and Moyane were at odds with one another.
She says in her letter that she objected to taking a polygraph test as it was unconstitutional and constituted harassment, and was part of an “unrelenting effort” to dismiss her from SARS.
Following his appointment as commissioner in September 2014, Moyane restructured SARS. This included disbanding the LBC.
“When we met, he [Moyane] made it clear to me that he took serious offence at me questioning his authority to change the LBC model. I was truly horrified, since SARS has always been an organisation where people can air their views and engage in robust debate when resolving matters,” she writes.
Manik accuses Moyane of sidelining Indian people in general and women in particular. “I was told by another general executive, who mentioned that the commissioner hates Indians.”
She says she didn’t take it too seriously, but started to wonder why:
- There were no Indians on the executive committee;
- Two other Indians at the LBC have been marginalised – these are individuals with strong performance and delivery; and
- There’s a strategic need to build the transfer pricing team. Recently ads were placed for 24 staff. Whites and Africans have been shortlisted and Indians have been specifically excluded.
“From a gender perspective, when I sat on the executive committee there were three women. With the appointment of the new executive committee, women have been excluded.”
Manik accuses Moyane and Makwakwa of “creating an environment of subterfuge and fear”.
She says SARS, under both men, had “weak functional knowledge and poor leadership”.
Prior to their tenure, SARS was respected for being the most efficient government department and was often complimented in Parliament. “The current leadership has brought SARS into disrepute,” she says.
“The commissioner and many of his appointees have practically non-existent functional knowledge and even weaker leadership credibility. Across SARS, many decisions have come to a standstill.”
She writes that at the LBC in particular, an “onslaught” of memorandums had to be furnished to educate the decision-makers at SARS.
“This is shocking, a waste of taxpayer monies and detracts from the work that needs to be executed. Effective leadership entails rallying the staff and creating a high-performance work environment. For SARS, it means focusing on the key strategic priorities. I have yet to see a meeting taking place where the organisation’s interests are placed above leadership’s petty conflicts. Usually, it just entails sycophants paying homage.”
She says what took 10 years to build was compromised in less than six months. At least two partners of external firms had indicated they had seen a flurry of CVs from the LBC. More than 30 people had already left.
“Incompetence has resulted in the appointment of incompetent persons,” Manik says.
She accuses Moyane and Makwakwa of using the restructuring to give jobs to cronies. Many of them bragged that they had been promised positions.
She says the environment at SARS was intolerable and not conducive to delivery.
“I would humbly request my persecution to cease so that I can add value and not be threatened into taking a polygraph. Further in the interest of SARS and the country, I request the minister to urgently restore credible and competent leadership at SARS.”
HALT TO INQUIRY
On Friday, Moyane applied to stop the inquiry after three days of damning testimony and evidence.
Advocate Dali Mpofu on Friday took the stand on his behalf. He said Moyane objected to the SARS inquiry as it was “grossly unfair” and had “inherent bias”.
Moyane objected to ENSafrica chairperson Michael Katz helping the inquiry. He said it constituted a conflict of interest.
Mpofu referred to Katz as President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “personal legal adviser”. He said Katz was representing Ramaphosa in a lawsuit brought against him by the relatives of the mineworkers police shot dead during a strike in Marikana, North West, in August 2012. It amounted to a clear conflict of interest as Ramaphosa constituted the SARS inquiry‚ Mpofu argued.
City Press sent ENS spokesperson Ashleigh Faber questions regarding Moyane’s objections. She replied: “Unfortunately, we won’t be able to assist this time.”
Moyane said he wanted all evidence presented at the inquiry to be expunged.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko couldn’t be reached for comment on Moyane’s objections.
Inquiry chairperson, retired Judge Robert Nugent, said he would deliver a ruling on Moyane’s objections tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Makwakwa disputed the testimony the inquiry had so far heard.
“I have watched, for the past three days, lies being told,” Makwakwa says in a letter to Nugent, which was made available to journalists. He volunteered to appear before the inquiry.
Fin24 reported that Makwakwa had taken SARS to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, alleging that he had been constructively dismissed.
The matter was set down for hearing on June 20. However, Makwakwa said it was postponed and would likely only start next month.
From Tuesday to Thursday, eight former and one current SARS employee described Moyane as having brought a reign of terror to the entity.
Mabuza, the attorney representing Moyane, said: “We won’t be addressing the merits of the inquiry.”
Ramaphosa suspended Moyane on March 19, pending disciplinary proceedings.
Over the course of the four tax years Moyane was in charge, SARS missed its revenue targets by an accumulated total of close to R100 billion.* SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE UPDATE: Get Fin24's top morning business news and opinions in your inbox.