Trevor Manuel. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Trevor Manuel. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel has backed public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan in his battle with the public protector, saying there was no SA Revenue Service (Sars) “rogue unit”.

Manuel was finance minister when Gordhan established the investigative unit during his time as commissioner at the tax agency.

Speaking to Business Day on the sidelines of a leadership conference in Johannesburg, Manuel said he had been issued with a Section 7(9) notice from the public protector, which is served on people implicated in a probe, but that the bulk of the issues she addressed with him happened long after he had left the ministry.

Last week, Mkhwebane released her report into the investigative unit at Sars and found that its establishment was unlawful and that Gordhan had violated the constitution. While Manuel is named in the report, Mkhwebane made no findings against him. 

She however found that the unit had conducted irregular and unlawful intelligence operations, and that Sars failed to follow proper processes in the procurement of intelligence equipment which the unit used for gathering intelligence.

In her remedial action, Mkhwebane directed President Cyril Ramaphosa to take disciplinary action against Gordhan, and directed the national police commissioner to investigate his conduct and that of other officials involved in the unit.

Gordhan has filed an application to have the report reviewed and set aside. 

Manuel said on Thursday it was clear in Gordhan’s affidavit, filed on Wednesday, that “there is no rogue unit”.

“It will be important to look at the interdict that minister Gordhan seeks because l don’t believe there’s anything new or anything warranted in the way this report was assembled, and I say that with a degree of trepidation.”

On Mkhwebane’s remedial action, Manuel said he was confident that the court would be hard pressed to deal with a report which directed the president to act against a cabinet minister by a certain date. 

“I don’t think the constitution gives the public protector that kind of authority to surpass the powers of the head of state,” he said.