SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

The clean-up of the SA Revenue Service (Sars) by the tax agency’s commissioner, Edward Kieswetter, has gathered pace with the suspension of IT executive Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane over allegations of serious misconduct.

Sars did not disclose the misconduct.

Makhekhe-Mokhuane’s suspension on Wednesday is the fifth of its kind as efforts to improve governance and efficiencies at the agency continue.

Governance failures at Sars during former commissioner Tom Moyane’s reign were partly credited for the revenue shortfalls that saw a VAT increase in 2018 for the first time in more than two decades, hurting the country’s poor.

Moyane was fired after recommendations by a commission of inquiry into tax administration and governance at Sars headed by retired judge Robert Nugent. The inquiry found Moyane was not fit to hold office and was largely responsible for the mess the tax agency found itself in.

The other suspended senior executives are Luther Lebelo, group executive of employee relations; Hlengani Mathebula, chief officer of governance, international relations, strategy and communication; and Teboho Mokoena chief officer for human capital and development.

All the executives were close allies of Moyane, and Lebelo was singled out as his “hitman” by witnesses at the commission of inquiry.

Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane, the SA Revenue Service's chief of digital and IT. Picture: ITWEB BRAINSTORM
Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane, the SA Revenue Service's chief of digital and IT. Picture: ITWEB BRAINSTORM

In October, under the leadership of acting commissioner Mark Kingon, the tax agency’s legal services head Refiloe Mokoena, who was allegedly at the centre of granting the controversial Gupta family a R420m VAT refund, was suspended. All five were suspended pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing.

The move to suspend the five was part of a review of the entire leadership by Kieswetter and was in line with the report and recommendations made by Nugent.

Makhekhe-Mokhuane, who was appointed by Moyane, appeared before the Nugent inquiry. She was forced to apologise for her testimony after she could not answer basic questions. 

Nugent recommended in his final report that the new commissioner hire a more suitably qualified person to replace Makhekhe-Mokhuane and take control of the revenue service’s information technology. He also recommended the new commissioner develop and implement a strategy to renew development of the technology.

He said there had been no meaningful policy, programme or strategy for the role of technology at Sars and that Makhekhe-Mokhuane, when she was appointed in 2017, was “seemingly unable to provide direction”.

Nugent said that according to Makhekhe-Mokhuane’s own evidence digital information services and technology (Dist) at the time operated only to “keep the lights on” and without any new or focused innovation. 

“While she spoke in her evidence of many matters that needed ‘talking about’, we were not able to discern any strategy, or any real prospect that Dist will come to terms with, and reverse, the heritage of four years of neglect, within the foreseeable future, while information technology remains under her management,” he said. 

Kieswetter was appointed Sars commissioner in May and inherited his predecessor Moyane’s executive committee. 

When he first arrived at the tax authority he said he would first reflect on what type of senior leadership team he wanted and what skills were needed before making any decision about his executive. 

Nugent found that Moyane lacked integrity and had colluded with consultant firm Bain to implement a restructuring that severely weakened the tax agency.

Moyane was fired in November 2018 in line with recommendations of the inquiry.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za