ROB ROSE: Makwakwa's return to Sars is as legit as a R9 note ...
This week’s Editor's Note column is free to read. FM has handed Sars an access to information request as the public has a right to know if its second-in-charge got off on a technicality, or how he explains possible corruption
The SA Revenue Service (Sars), which fell R51bn short of its targets this year after axing anyone who dared cast even a sideways glance at its prickly boss Tom Moyane, has welcomed back its second-in-charge Jonas Makwakwa with open arms, after a year’s suspension.
Makwakwa is one of the few people with any sort of institutional knowledge left, after Moyane’s purge of Sars staff loyal to Pravin Gordhan in 2014. As one former Sars official puts it: "Moyane needs him at Sars — he’s the only guy left from the old crowd."
Moyane evidently wants him around so badly, in fact, that it took him until September last year to even suspend Makwakwa — even though the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) had alerted him four months earlier to R1.3m in "suspicious and unusual cash deposits" into Makwakwa’s account over six years.
That FIC report would have ended many careers. It showed that total deposits into Makwakwa’s bank account soared 152% in five years to reach R3.4m by 2015 — at a time when his Sars salary was estimated to be less than half that. (Typically, Sars didn’t reply to questions, including on Makwakwa’s salary.)
The FIC flagged "a dependency on suspicious cash deposits and payments to maintain his current standard of living". Of 75 cash deposits (totalling R785,130), more than half were from "unidentified" depositors.
That FIC report would have ended many careers.
"These cash deposits should be investigated to determine whether these funds ... received by this Sars employee constitute payments of proceeds of crime arising from corrupt activities," it said.
And it wasn’t just Makwakwa. Three cash deposits totalling R450,000 were made into the account of his girlfriend, Kelly-Ann Elskie (who also happens to be a Sars employee) in three days before Christmas 2015.
Pretty damning stuff. So, you can imagine the raised eyebrows when Sars released a breezy 216-word statement this week, saying Makwakwa "will return to the organisation" from November 1.
Sars said that advocate Terry Motau, who chaired Makwakwa’s disciplinary hearing, found him "not guilty of any of the charges levelled against him".
This, of course, won’t be the end of the matter.
For a start, there’s the small matter of Moyane’s own criminal liability for his handling of the case.
This is because legislation says that nobody who "knows or suspects that a report has been or is to be made (about suspicious transactions) may disclose that knowledge or suspicion or any information regarding the contents or suspected contents of any such report."
Despite that, Moyane merrily handed over the FIC report to Makwakwa — who then got his lawyers to pepper the FIC with questions for their "client".
Jacques Pauw, in his absorbing book The President’s Keepers, describes how Makwakwa, with 20 years’ experience at Sars, had filled the vacuum left by Moyane’s purge to become his "hatchet man".
Sars has been handed an access to information request, demanding details of Makwakwa’s disciplinary
Pauw’s book also reveals why it was so crucial for President Jacob Zuma to control Sars. Most sensationally, this includes the claim that Zuma was kept on a R1m/month retainer by Royal Security (owned by ANC supporter Roy Moodley), on which tax wasn’t declared. So you can see why a tame Sars is vital.
But if Sars had its way, the public would be none the wiser about what happened in Makwakwa’s disciplinary, and whether he got off on a technicality.
When contacted, Makwakwa said he was "not authorised" to speak to the media. But perhaps most tellingly, when asked if he’d be comfortable for the transcript of his disciplinary to be released publicly, Makwakwa gave a one-word answer: "No."
Not exactly the conviction of the unfairly accused.
Sars spokesman Sandile Memela says the authority won’t release the transcripts because "it’s a confidential matter between employer and employee".
Which, of course, it isn’t. At a time when Sars is bungling cases due to its own incompetence and falling behind its targets, its integrity must be shown to be beyond reproach. The public has a right to know if its second-in-charge got off on a technicality, or how he explains possible corruption.
This is why media lawyer Dario Milo believes such hearings should be held in public — so the public can see the evidence and assess how it was adjudicated.
And this is why the Financial Mail sent Sars a promotion of access to information request this week, demanding the full record of Makwakwa’s disciplinary proceeding — including all the transcripts.
Of course, don’t expect Moyane to hand them over easily. But hand them over he undoubtedly will have to — even if a court has to force him to do so.