Natasha Marrian Political editor: Business Day
South African Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
South African Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed a new chairperson for the disciplinary inquiry into suspended South African Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane.

Former Constitutional Court justice Kate O’Regan was removed as chairperson of the disciplinary inquiry, after Moyane’s attorney, Eric Mabuza, turned his attention to O’Regan’s suitability for overseeing the matter due to her long-standing position on the board of civil society organisation Corruption Watch.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Presidency said Ramaphosa had appointed Azhar Bham SC as the presiding officer in the inquiry.

"While the President is certain that Judge O’Regan would have adjudicated the matter objectively and that her position did not present a conflict, he decided that it would nevertheless be important to remove any possible perception of bias," the Presidency said.

"The President has thanked Judge O’Regan for availing herself for this public service."

Corruption Watch had written to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), urging it to bring criminal charges against Moyane for his handling of the Financial Intelligence Report into his former second in command, Jonas Makwakwa.

Moyane’s legal team, in a letter to O’Regan, expressed gratitude that she informed them of her role in Corruption Watch.

"We are grateful to you for reminding us of your long-standing association with Corruption Watch before the start of the inquiry," Mabuza wrote.

The NPA — largely criticised for failing to prosecute politically sensitive cases under former president Jacob Zuma — replied to Corruption Watch, saying it did not believe that Moyane had a case to answer.

Last week it changed its mind, informing Corruption Watch that it was reviewing its decision not to prosecute Moyane.

While O’Regan, according to Corruption Watch insiders, is not involved in the running of the organisation, Moyane’s attorneys requested that she recuse herself.

The objection to O’Regan was raised by Mabuza after Ramaphosa rejected his attempt last week to have the state pay Moyane’s legal costs, as well as an attempt to have the rules of engagement in the inquiry altered.

The back and forth between Moyane’s legal team and Ramaphosa has resulted in a delay to the resumption of the key inquiry, as well as an acting commissioner and not a permanent one at the helm of the critical tax agency.

Public confidence in SARS has waned under Moyane’s watch, resulting in a R48bn hole in revenue collection.

Ramaphosa suspended Moyane in March over his handling of the Makwakwa matter, misleading Parliament, making unauthorised bonus payments to members of his executive and instructing a SARS official not to co-operate with a KPMG inquiry.

The Financial Intelligence Centre had handed Moyane a report on suspicious and unusual transactions into Makwakwa’s personal bank account and that of his partner, Kelly-Ann Elskie, amounting to some R1.2m.

Deposits into his account increased by 152% between 2010 and 2016, but Makwakwa was cleared of all charges and allowed to return to work at SARS late in 2017.

Moyane had tasked law firm Hogan Lovells with investigating the matter and told Parliament and the public that the firm had cleared Makwakwa of all charges. However, the firm itself released a statement saying it had not, in fact, investigated the transactions.

SARS is set to appear before Parliament’s standing committee on finance on Wednesday, where it will once again be grilled over its handling of the Makwakwa matter.