Ramaphosa’s bat­tle with tainted SARS chief will be ugly, but it’s the right fight

Sunday Times - - Opinion -

Long-suf­fer­ing tax­pay­ers, who are still bat­tling to di­gest the VAT in­crease im­posed on us to try to claw back the bil­lions squan­dered to en­rich the Gupta fam­ily and their cronies in gov­ern­ment, will be heart­ened by the news this week that Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa is bring­ing dis­ci­plinary charges against SARS com­mis­sioner Tom Moy­ane. The charges against the sus­pended SARS chief will surely con­firm the end of his dele­te­ri­ous reign at SARS, where he presided over the crip­pling of what had been the jewel in demo­cratic South Africa’s pub­lic ser­vice.

With a R50-bil­lion tax hole to fill, and tax­payer con­fi­dence in SARS at a low ebb, South Africa can lit­tle af­ford to in­dulge a tax-col­lec­tion ser­vice that ap­pears to have been reengi­neered to ben­e­fit tax cheats and Moy­ane’s friends in SARS and in Sax­on­wold, from where the Gupta em­pire was run.

In to­day’s edi­tion we re­port on what ap­pears to have been a stormy meet­ing be­tween Ramaphosa and Moy­ane, in which, ac­cord­ing to the Moy­ane camp, Ramaphosa “shouted” at Moy­ane and ques­tioned him at length about the dis­ci­plinary cha­rade in which Moy­ane’s sec­ond-in-charge, Jonas Mak­wakwa, was let off the hook in spite of a damn­ing Fi­nan­cial In­tel­li­gence Cen­tre re­port that de­tailed un­ex­plained cash de­posits Mak­wakwa had made via ATM into his own bank ac­count.

Also at is­sue is a R70-mil­lion VAT re­fund made to the Gupta fam­ily. Moy­ane’s “ex­pla­na­tion” to the pres­i­dent that he had noth­ing to do with the VAT re­fund may well have been one ex­pla­na­tion too far for Ramaphosa, who is not known to suf­fer fools gladly.

With Moy­ane’s le­gal team ap­par­ently re­ject­ing the

Pres­i­dency’s stated in­ten­tion to con­duct the dis­ci­plinary process in writ­ing, the stage may be set for a bruis­ing show­down with the pres­i­dent in court.

Of course, the charges against Moy­ane go far be­yond the vague allegation that he com­pro­mised SARS’s rev­enue-col­lect­ing mus­cle. They are spe­cific and are grounded in the al­leged con­tra­ven­tion of laws such as the Pub­lic Fi­nance Man­age­ment Act and the SARS Act, and re­late as well to the al­leged ir­reg­u­lar pay­ment of bonuses to SARS top brass.

Moy­ane, who was sus­pended on March 19, with

Ramaphosa say­ing he had lost faith in his abil­ity to run

SARS as an ef­fec­tive tax-col­lec­tion en­tity, had been ap­pointed to the SARS top job by for­mer pres­i­dent Jacob Zuma in Septem­ber 2014. This was in the wake of a nowdis­cred­ited KPMG re­port that high­lighted the al­leged il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties of a so-called “rogue spy unit” lo­cated in SARS.

He neatly fit­ted the tem­plate of the type of pub­lic ser­vant Zuma pre­ferred, all the bet­ter to fur­ther the agenda and line the pock­ets of the Sax­on­wold mob, whose in­ter­ests alone were deemed para­mount while or­di­nary South Africans looked on in dis­may at the de­struc­tion of their pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions and the pil­lag­ing of the pub­lic purse.

But the tide has turned. Ramaphosa, in the un­der­stated yet qui­etly de­ter­mined way that has be­come his hall­mark, is pick­ing off the bad ap­ples one by one. As a for­mer busi­ness­man, he knows only too well that with­out an ef­fec­tive, clean and en­er­getic

SARS, the trans­for­ma­tion pro­ject will be still­born, and the ex­pected up­lift­ment of the masses will come to nought.

Slowly but surely, Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn” is shin­ing a light into the dark­est re­cesses of the Zuma era.

Ob­vi­ously, Ramaphosa will want to see this mat­ter fi­nalised. But should the pres­i­dent find him­self in court, up against Moy­ane and his lawyers, some good can come of that, too: a fuller air­ing of the scan­dal that has come close to de­stroy­ing SARS.

South Africa de­serves a bet­ter SARS. Can there be any loser in this sor­did mess apart from Moy­ane? We doubt it.

Ramaphosa is qui­etly pick­ing off the bad ap­ples one by one

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