Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has come under fire from the Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF) after he called for action against a senior SA Revenue Service (Sars) official who penned a scathing letter against credit-rating agencies, describing them as “economic gangs”.
The organisation – led by a staunch supporter of President Jacob Zuma and the controversial Gupta family, Mzwanele Manyi – on Tuesday defended a letter by Sars’ group executive manager for employment relations, Luther Lebelo, which appeared in the Business Day in November.
In his letter published before Standard & Poor’s made its announcement about the country’s sovereign credit ratings in December, Lebelo, writing in his personal capacity as the spokesperson of the PPF, described the credit-rating agencies as “gangs” used by Europe and America “to whip us into line”.
He accused the global agencies of employing “colonial and apartheid times’” tactics of dealing with developing countries, saying the ANC-led “government was threatened with economic violence every time it tried to implement projects and programmes to relieve the poor from their daily agony”.
“The ‘gang’ uses the whip to impose on developing countries their preferred economic and social system, which ultimately dictates how a supposedly free SA must behave, robbing us of the critical right to define our own destiny, a right that was central to our liberation struggle,” he said.
On Tuesday, the PPF came to Lebelo’s defence, saying he should be allowed to “enjoy the right of freedom of speech”.
Lebelo’s letter prompted Democratic Alliance (DA) finance spokesperson David Maynier to write a parliamentary question to the minister complaining about Lebelo’s views, as well as requesting Sars to take disciplinary action against him.
In his response to Maynier’s parliamentary question on Friday, Gordhan criticised Lebelo’s comments, saying they cost the country its “investment grading” and would likely lead to a situation that would affect the poor the most if interest rates increased.
He also said Sars refused to take action against him, as the letter was written in his private capacity.
Gordhan added: “Finally, his letter to the media indicates clearly that he writes in two capacities – one of which is ‘Group Executive of Employment Relations, Sars’… The Sars management must account for their lack of action in this matter.”
The PPF said instead of worrying about Lebelo’s views, Gordhan should rather “focus on coordinating macroeconomic policy and promoting the national policy framework”.
“The PPF’s view is that Gordhan, in his pandering antics to the DA and white monopoly capital, is interfering with the operation of Sars by indirectly instructing the management of Sars to take action against Lebelo.
“Lebelo will not be silenced for speaking in his individual capacity or on behalf of PPF,” the PPF said in a statement.
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Gordhan’s comments are the latest in the standoff between National Treasury and the tax authority. The minister has previously complained in a series replies to written parliamentary questions about its leadership under Sars commissioner Tom Moyane.
He has complained about the lack of cooperation and accountability from top management and criticised Moyane’s failure to act immediately against his now-suspended second-in-command, Jonas Makwakwa, and his girlfriend (also a Sars employee), Kelly-Ann Elskie.
Makwakwa made headlines after a report from the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), received by Moyane in May, indicated about the R1.2m in deposits were made into Makwakwa’s bank accounts and R450 000 into Elskie’s.
The two were suspended pending an investigation in September last year.