Pravin Gordhan. Picture: GCIS
Pravin Gordhan. Picture: GCIS

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan is under investigation by public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and has been subpoenaed to appear before her next week.

The investigation relates to the early retirement package offered to former SA Revenue Service (Sars) deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay in 2010.

Gordhan has informed justice Raymond Zondo, chair of the state-capture commission of inquiry, about the public protector’s investigation saying this was part of the “misuse and abuse of public powers for suspicious objectives”.

According to Gordhan’s statement, the complaint against him was lodged on November 18 2016 by Lebogang Hoveka, then a speechwriter in former president Jacob Zuma’s office.

This was a month after Thuli Madonsela’s term as public protector ended and Mkhwebane took office. It was also three weeks after former national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams withdrew fraud charges against Gordhan, Pillay and former Sars commissioner Oupa Magashula regarding the retirement package.

It is unclear why Mkhwebane is to interview Gordhan only now.  Her spokesperson Oupa Segalwe confirmed that Gordhan was subpoenaed to meet her on Wednesday November 14.

“Yes, the public protector subpoenaed and is investigating allegations of impropriety against minister Gordhan. It has been alleged that the minister approved Mr Pillay’s retirement and bought off his pension balance irregularly and later allowed him to be re-employed by Sars,” Segalwe said via text message.

Segalwe said he was not at liberty to disclose the identity of the complainant.

Presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko confirmed that Hoveka was still employed in the presidency but said he was now attached to the office of the deputy president.

In his statement to the inquiry, Gordhan expressed concern about  intimidation, harassment and racist abuse against those appearing before the Zondo commission.

“People, including myself, who are appearing before the commission continue to be subjected to harassment and racist abuse in frivolous and vexatious litigation, in the media and on social media,” Gordhan said.

Decisions taken to clean up the state were stalled when they were challenged, whether internally or through litigation, he said.  

Regarding the public protector’s subpoena, Gordhan said this was the same issue for which he was charged criminally in 2016.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Luvuo Mfaku said there was no criminal case pending against Gordhan relating to Pillay’s retirement package. “[Abrahams] reviewed it and reversed decision to prosecute,” said Mfaku.

Gordhan said in his statement he believed the public protector’s investigation was an abuse of public powers.  “I believe that the fight back is aimed at countering the work done this year by public servants and political office bearers to ‘recapture’ the state and deliver on the constitutional mandate,” he said. 

He said the commission should consider releasing interim reports or measures that could expose and help put a stop to ongoing malfeasance.

“The work currently being done with SOEs [state-owned enterprises] shows that they are and were seriously compromised in terms of the scale of financial losses, the undermining of good corporate governance, their operational capacity, and the dearth of competent and courageous leadership in the face of serious fiscal risk,” said Gordhan.

“It must be recognised that those constituencies who would have liked the status quo to remain are engaged in a determined and vigorous fight-back taking place across our state.”

The real cost of state capture was the damage done to the institutional fabric of the state, said Gordhan.

“Good people lost their jobs, families were put through trauma and vilification for standing up, and the lasting impact of the past decade weakened and hollowed out our state.”

Gordhan said that despite what he considered to be intimidation and harassment “following the law and our consciences has been, and will continue to be, our chosen path”.

“The cost of being honest is high for me personally, as well as for my family and my colleagues. It is a price paid to ensure that SA transforms from its apartheid past and its recently captured state into the nation for all South Africans promised in the constitution.”