President Cyril Ramaphosa responding to the Presidency budget vote debate in the National Assembly. Picture: GCIS/ JAIRUS MMUTLE
President Cyril Ramaphosa responding to the Presidency budget vote debate in the National Assembly. Picture: GCIS/ JAIRUS MMUTLE

President Cyril Ramaphosa came out in strong support of public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan on Thursday in parliament, saying the minister is a person of commitment and integrity.

The EFF has been calling for Gordhan to be removed from his position following a controversial finding by under-fire public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane over the setting up of the so-called SA Revenue Service (Sars) “rogue unit”.

In his presidency budget vote speech in Parliament on Wednesday, EFF leader Julius Malema said “the public protector has confirmed what we all know, that there is an unlawful, illegal and extremely dangerous intelligence unit that was established by Mr Pravin Gordhan in his previous job as Sars commissioner.

“Speaker, under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa, the centre is not holding, things are falling apart, and SA is being auctioned off to a very dangerous minority that has private intelligence in service of its interests,” said Malema.

Responding to the debate on Thursday, Ramaphosa backed his minister.

“I am in no position, Honourable Malema, to express a view on the findings that the public protector has made against minister Gordhan. But I can express a view on the character of the minister and the contribution he has made to the liberation of our country. I have appointed him to a critical and demanding position in cabinet because I know him to be a person of commitment and integrity,” said Ramaphosa.

Earlier in July, Mkhwebane released reports finding that Gordhan had violated the constitution by establishing the Sars “rogue unit”. She also found that he had misled the National Assembly about his meeting the Gupta family.

Mkhwebane directed Ramaphosa to take disciplinary action against Gordhan within 30 days.

The report was Mkhwebane’s second finding against Gordhan. In May she released a controversial report directing Ramaphosa to “take appropriate disciplinary action” against Gordhan, finding that his approval of former Sars commissioner Ivan Pillay’s early retirement package amounted to “improper conduct” and violated the constitution.

Gordhan is challenging both reports in court. In court papers filed this week, Ramaphosa also backed Gordhan’s legal challenges to the reports saying that any action against the minister would need to be informed by a ruling on whether the public protector’s findings are valid.

Mkhwebane has opposed the court bid by Gordhan and Ramaphosa to halt her order.

Ramaphosa told parliament that Malema’s attack on Gordhan required a response.

“It is a fundamental tenet of our democratic constitutional order that no person, no matter what position they hold, is above the law. If minister Gordhan, or any member of this administration, has anything to answer for, they must be held to account without exception. But allow that determination to be made by an appropriate judicial institution after due process. Let the law take its course,” said Ramaphosa.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za