Zuma’s protected disciples shake Gordhan’s ground
PRAVIN Gordhan remains finance minister, but events this week have shown he has already been considerably weakened. South African Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Tom Moyane sitting on a report from a respected banking regulator questioning whether his right-hand man, Jonas Makwakwa, was involved in criminal or corrupt activities is outrageous.
By its own admission, SARS is meant to follow principles of “accountability, fairness, honesty, integrity, respect, transparency and trust” in conducting its work. The stink around its handling of “suspicious and unusual” transactions totalling R1.2m involving the accounts of Makwakwa and his girlfriend inspires little confidence that it is living up to these principles.
Its handling of the matter is in stark contrast to the way Moyane tackled internal matters in the past. He entered SARS in September 2014 and by December, had begun “cleaning house”, suspending officials now implicated in the alleged rogue unit under investigation by the Hawks. This was done days after receiving an internal report on the unit. In comparison, the report on Makwakwa came from a credible institution with a legal mandate to investigate and report suspicious activities in the financial sector.
It is also worrying that Gordhan was not informed of the report, although he and Moyane are not exactly golfing buddies. The relationship was fraught from the start, with tension heightening to such an extent earlier this year that Gordhan threatened to resign if Moyane was kept in the post. President Jacob Zuma was meant to have managed the tension, but this evidently did not happen.
Moyane and Zuma have a longstanding relationship, and the fact that the restructuring at SARS went ahead despite Gordhan’s instruction to halt it shows the commissioner enjoys political cover from the president.
In an interview with eNCA this week, the ANC’s head of its economic transformation subcommittee, Enoch Godongwana, provided further evidence that Moyane enjoys political protection way above that of his own boss (Gordhan).
“You have got a situation which is unprecedented, a minister of finance who has no control over his revenue service, SARS. It is unprecedented because your finance minister must have control of both the revenue and expenditure sides,” he said.
“That in itself has been a problem, and the fact of the matter is that the initiation of this criminal complaint [against Gordhan] is by that same revenue service.”
Godongwana is referring to the fact that Moyane had laid the criminal complaint with the Hawks that led to its investigation of Gordhan, and the unit’s badgering of him since he returned to the helm of the Treasury in December. Its initial questions to Gordhan were delivered in February, and the National Prosecuting Authority confirmed it had received the docket, yet there is still no movement.
In the meantime, South African Airways chairwoman Dudu Myeni was retained at the helm of the board and the embattled airline has been granted an extension of its loan guarantee. Further, top brass at other state-owned enterprises were confident and emboldened enough to publicly take on Gordhan and the Treasury through media statements.
All this points to a worrying trend: those who enjoy political cover from the president are able to bypass the finance minister as he attempts to perform his role. This is a grave concern as he has to navigate a tough economic climate and restore the confidence of South Africans, investors and ratings agencies in the coming months.
Godongwana is the first senior ANC leader openly to admit that the pursuit of Gordhan by the Hawks is politically motivated, and he has been candid about the way the Zuma administration is eroding the authority vested in the finance minister.
That said, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa recently awoke from his slumber and admitted the government was at war with itself.
For his part, Zuma complains of being abused in Parliament as the institutions he is obliged to protect crumble around him. While recognition of a problem is the first step towards fixing it, by the time the rest of the government twigs, it will have destroyed the very institutions it is meant to command and steer.
Marrian is political editor.