While there was an overwhelming interest in the post of SA Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner, fewer than 10 candidates would be interviewed for the post by a seven-member team headed by former finance minister Trevor Manuel.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni appointed the panel to conduct the interviews and compile a shortlist for President Cyril Ramaphosa, who will make the final appointment.

Speaking about the appointment in his state of the nation address (Sona) on Thursday night, Ramaphosa said that South Africans needed to “watch this space”. 

Manuel was finance minister when Sars underwent an enormous transformation from an apartheid-era receiver of revenue to a world-class tax agency. The new Sars commissioner will face a mammoth task after the ruinous leadership of former tax boss Tom Moyane, who culled critical skills from the institution and neutralised its capacity.

The panel includes judge Dennis Davis, Treasury tax chief Ismail Momoniat, Peotona founder advocate Thandi Orleyn, human resources expert Fezekile Tshiqi, chair of the African Women Chartered Accountants Investment Holding Company Sindi Mabaso-Koyana and businessperson Angela Bester.

The Treasury advertised the post in December and applications closed on January 18. The panel will consider the recommendations by the chair of the Sars commission of inquiry, retired judge Robert Nugent.

Ramaphosa said in the Sona that he would implement the recommendations by the Sars commission. This includes potentially extending the term of the commission to continue its work.

It also includes amending the South African Revenue Service Act to appoint an inspector-general to oversee governance at the tax agency, as well as to appoint a deputy commissioner, who will provide an additional layer of accountability.

Officials were tight-lipped on Wednesday about the identity of the contenders for the post. The appointment of a new Sars commissioner is urgent, given the scale of the turnaround required to get the agency working again.

The Nugent inquiry heard that the Sars IT infrastructure was in a bad way and needed to be turned around. Senior employees have warned that the e-filing system could collapse by 2020 should no action be taken to intervene urgently.

Senior former officials who were purged under Moyane have also indicated their willingness to return to the agency, but this is unlikely to happen until a new commissioner has been appointed.

Sars revenue collection was once again revised downward in the medium-term budget policy statement in 2018. Its collection figures are set to be announced by Mboweni in his budget speech later in February.  

At the heart of Nugent’s recommendations is for the new Sars boss to be “apolitical”. The individual should also be of “unblemished integrity” with the ability to manage a large organisation — Sars has a staff complement of about 14,000 people. 

Meanwhile, Moyane’s lawyer, Eric Mabuza, said he was waiting for feedback from the Constitutional Court, where the former commissioner is challenging his axing.

Moyane approached the Constitutional Court in late 2018 after the high court denied his application to be returned to his post.