Fear stopped staff at Sars from speak­ing out

Mail & Guardian - - Business - Te­bogo Tsh­wane

Tes­ti­mony be­fore the Nu­gent com­mis­sion this week re­vealed how ir­reg­u­lar and un­law­ful con­duct at the South African Rev­enue Ser­vice (Sars) con­tin­ued, partly be­cause whistle­blow­ers had limited pro­tec­tion.

The com­mis­sion, chaired by re­tired judge Robert Nu­gent, kicked off its third round of hear­ings this week. It un­cov­ered that, in ad­di­tion to the dodgy ten­der with con­sult­ing firm Bain & Com­pany, Sars had en­tered into a ten­der con­tract worth more than R200-mil­lion with global ad­vi­sory firm Gart­ner that ap­pears to be ir­reg­u­lar.

The in­quiry is in­ves­ti­gat­ing tax ad­min­is­tra­tion and gov­er­nance prob­lems at Sars be­tween April 2014 and March 2018, when Tom Moy­ane was com­mis­sioner. He has been sus­pended.

A pre­sen­ta­tion to the com­mis­sion led by the chief di­rec­tor of sup­ply chain gov­er­nance at the trea­sury, Solly Tshi­tangano, sug­gests that Gart­ner was awarded a mul­ti­phased ten­der to re­view Sars’s in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy strat­egy and mod­erni­sa­tion pro­gramme. This is de­spite the fact that Gart­ner was not the first choice for the con­tract.

The con­tract, which seems to have been awarded in Jan­uary 2015, was won in a closed, non­com­pet­i­tive ten­der process that did not meet trea­sury’s reg­u­la­tions for de­vi­a­tions.

Email cor­re­spon­dence be­tween Sars of­fi­cials and Gart­ner also in­di­cates that the com­pany was re­spon­si­ble for draft­ing its own terms of ref­er­ence on the ten­der and had ap­pointed sub­con­trac­tor Range­wave Con­sult­ing, a firm that al­legedly has links to Moy­ane, with­out dis­clos­ing this to the trea­sury. This con­sti­tuted pos­si­ble grounds for dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

The con­tract seems to have been ex­tended and changed on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions for Gart­ner’s ben­e­fit, and to in­crease the ten­der costs.

Tshi­tangano said a cru­cial ques­tion to ask is: Where were the whistle­blow­ers when these events were tak­ing place? He said the prob­lem was that South Africa’s sys­tems do not ef­fec­tively pro­tect whistle­blow­ers, which is why no one came for­ward on time with in­for­ma­tion that would have led to in­ves­ti­ga­tions into these con­tracts.

“Be­cause it’s only whistle­blow­ers who would’ve told you and say, ‘but go and check that con­tract’ and then you will have to check: one, two, three. It’s one area of con­cern that we ob­vi­ously we need to look at,” Tshi­tangano said.

Two se­nior of­fi­cials who work in the in­ter­nal fraud in­ves­ti­ga­tions unit, for­merly known as the an­ti­cor­rup­tion unit, ex­plained how trust had bro­ken down be­tween the cor­rup­tion-bust­ing divi­sion and em­ploy­ees when the names of whistle­blow­ers were leaked af­ter the

newly formed to­bacco task team — which would come to be dubbed “the new rogue unit” by the me­dia — was granted ac­cess to emails on the Sars server.

The re­quest was made by a mem­ber of the task team, Gobi Makhanya, in Oc­to­ber 2016. He asked for per­mis­sion to down­load the emails of a list of sev­eral peo­ple out­side Sars, and those of about 10 mem­bers from the in­ter­nal an­ti­cor­rup­tion unit. The ra­tio­nale given for this re­quest was that these peo­ple had been linked to cig­a­rette smug­gling.

Yousuf De­nath, the act­ing se­nior man­ager for fraud in­ves­ti­ga­tions — whose email ad­dress was on the list — said the ef­fect of the down­load was “cat­a­strophic”.

“I mean ev­ery whistleblower, ev­ery com­plainant, ev­ery per­son who has re­ported any­thing, their de­tails, their in­for­ma­tion and what they re­ported, is on my lap­top,” said De­nath.

Wit­ness X, who asked not to be named, told the com­mis­sion that it had opened them up to risks be­cause whistle­blow­ers re­port cases di­rectly to man­agers, and two of the peo­ple on Makhanya’s list were man­agers. “It be­came a real prob­lem in that one of the whistle­blow­ers had ac­tu­ally re­ported some­thing [to a man­ager] re­lat­ing to one of the to­bacco task team mem­bers, [who] had be­come aware of the re­port,” said Wit­ness X.

“The whistleblower was then ap­proached by the to­bacco task team mem­ber and was un­der the im­pres­sion that the man­ager in our [unit] had ac­tu­ally gone and in­formed the very sus­pect that the per­son had re­ported, that he had been re­ported on, so a fur­ther break­down in trust with us,” Wit­ness X added.

Wit­ness X said the task team mem­ber fur­ther used the emails to de­fend him­self in a sep­a­rate mat­ter, where he was asked to ex­plain his ac­tions re­lat­ing to the al­le­ga­tions brought against him.

Wit­ness X said it was a “com­plete breach of in­for­ma­tion, se­cu­rity and abuse of power” be­cause he had used the in­for­ma­tion that he was privy to by virtue of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion for his per­sonal gain, in­stead of fol­low­ing due process.

Up­beat: Chief ex­ec­u­tive Ian Moir says the David Jones de­ba­cle is be­ingcor­rected

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.