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Nene’s establishment of SARS committee looks an astute move

03 March 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Author: Carol Paton
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Author: Carol Paton (BDlive)

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene showed some mettle when at last he pulled rank on South African Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Tom Moyane last Wednesday and established an advisory committee to look over Mr Moyane’s shoulder.

Mr Moyane is not Mr Nene’s appointment. Although the finance minister has in the past appointed the SARS commissioner, Mr Moyane was appointed by President Jacob Zuma. His tenure so far has been disastrous: he started by suspending his top management, a decision later reversed in court; has had to revise revenue targets down twice in four months; and been responsible for a succession of senior managers walking out the door.

It is fair to say that, in a sense, the trouble preceded him. At the root of the drama is an intelligence unit within SARS that was established many years before he got there. But it was just as Mr Moyane — a surprise appointment as he had never worked at SARS — arrived that the worms began to crawl out of the woodwork.

Given the high involvement of various spy agencies, and the planting of intelligence and counterintelligence in newspapers about the SARS intelligence unit, the fact that an exposé of its existence emerged just as Mr Moyane was to take over is not just an unfortunate coincidence. In the world of spies, there are no coincidences.

It is also worth keeping in mind that the vacancy at the top of SARS was created when Oupa Magashule was caught in a compromising situation, flirtatiously offering a young woman he hardly knew a job. That looks more like a setup by the day.

It is worth noting, too, that both Mr Zuma and the African National Congress (ANC) have had run-ins with SARS in recent months, none of which ended in a compromise from the revenue authority. In the ANC’s case, the conflict was over a shipment of election T-shirts impounded for unpaid duties; in the case of Mr Zuma it was the taxing of his "benefit" from Nkandla probed by the public protector, as well as the pursuit of parties in business with his family.

SARS’s settlement with Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema is one more annoying factor in the relationship.

All of this happened out of sight of the public eye. Hence when the allegations of the "rogue unit" became public, they presented a prima facie case for a cleanout by the new commissioner. The point of all of this background is to demonstrate that there are powerful political interests and many hidden hands at play.

This is perhaps why Mr Nene, who has political authority over SARS, stood by for four months while the damage to SARS’s institutional capacity and its reputation mounted. His decision to establish an advisory committee to watch over Mr Moyane would not have been popular with those seeking a cleanout of the intelligence-linked personnel within SARS.

The advisory committee, Mr Nene said on budget day, would deal with two aspects. One was allegations in the media about the rogue unit. The committee has been asked to advise on how to avoid this recurring. Though this is not explicitly stated, probably intentionally so, it implies the committee must consider the rights and wrongs of gathering intelligence and whether SARS should be allowed to do so.

But the terms of reference are wider: Mr Nene said the primary task "will be to guide the direction of long-term strategy at SARS by ensuring decisions about operations, personnel, budget and technology" support it. This would involve scrutinising business, organisational and technology plans, and budgets, he said.

It cannot be coincidence Mr Moyane has just set in motion a far-reaching review to look at exactly these things. Consultants have been appointed and management reference teams set up. The changes such a review could come up with — as consultants are paid to change things, not keep them the same — could be quite extensive.

Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane says it is likely that once the consultants have completed their work, SARS leadership will engage Mr Nene on the outcomes and propose a way forward. It will be at this stage that the advisory committee would come in and review the proposals from SARS management and advise accordingly.

The committee gives Mr Nene an excellent way to look more closely at what Mr Moyane is doing. It has another advantage: it puts some political distance between himself and Mr Moyane. Given the way matters were proceeding, that too is a good idea.

This article first appeared on bdlive.co.za.


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